Friday, April 4, 2008

Housing @ UMD Lacks System-Level Priority Status

This is a real bummer. System has nixed university efforts to get another PPP (in addition to the 370-some bed building already approved) on South Campus, near Commons.

Pat Mielke, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, is referenced as having been told by "officials" - presumably people at System and members of the Board of Regents (who are a segment of System, but have a unique role in the budget process - final approval) - that they want to see progress in the private sector before they approve any more debt for PPPs or state buildings. Really? Since when is it the University's job to go to Otis Warren and other local developers and say, "Listen, we really need you to build that add-on to University View so that we can get more housing on campus"?

Vice President for Administrative Affairs Doug Duncan is quoted as saying
"In the meantime, this will help some. I think we reached a conclusion that's going to get housing built on campus fairly quickly."
That sounds good, but what? The "this" he's talking about in the first sentence appears to be the 370-bed PPP. Yes, that will help some. But if that building were available today for students to live in next year, it still wouldn't cover the amount of juniors DRL and the University has had to turn away this year due to the housing crunch (crisis, debacle, and whatever other uber-negatively-connotated word for "problem" you can imagine). "Help" is pretty relative.

And what about this "fairly quickly"? In all the conversations I've had with administrators, not one person has expressed this kind of optimism to me. Everyone shrugs their shoulders, seemingly saying something like, "Your guess is as good as mine." Does Duncan know something we don't, or is he thinking wishfully?

Staff writer Carrie Wells writes further:
In the meantime, the university decided it will take $35 million from East Campus developer Foulger-Pratt Argo, originally earmarked for the North Campus dorm, and use it to fund more housing projects elsewhere on the campus. Administrators said they had not decided where the money would go, but acknowledged the possibility of using it to pay for the South Campus dorm. With the North Campus dorm expected to cost around $80 million, that money would not be enough to fully fund the project.
This sounds off to me, taking money earmarked for an $80 million project that could potentially house the entire current population of Leonardtown and putting it toward other projects. It feels like we're taking the sandbags from the broken levy to stop up the flooding of a single building or one part of town. It sounds good, I guess, if that building is really important, but what about the levy and all the problems the rest of the flooding will cause? The other buildings? There have to be more details here. Aren't there legal questions here, too, with respect to Foulger-Pratt Argo and what the money is to be used for?

The more important question here is, what happens next? Just forget about that $80 million project? The already-approved 370-bed PPP will cost about $36 million, so that $35 million we're redirecting would presumably add a comparable amount of beds. Every little bit counts, but isn't there efficiency in economies of scale? University administrators fought extremely hard to get that $36 million; just imagine the fight it will take to get System/BOR to replenish all $80 million, if that's the road they have to take.

It's really too bad when the AVPSA feels something that makes her say "I'll take what [housing] I can get." The RHA Senate voted last week to get involved with a campus-wide and inter-organization pro-housing campaign that would include writing emails to the BOR. I'm optimistic that they'll hear us, but I'll measure how seriously they're taking us by the results I see.

Bureaucracy works slow, and so also does construction. Even if we get something approved this year, who knows when it will get built? The Washington Quad was supposed to be done in time for residents to enjoy it throughout Spring 2008. We're now looking at an early-mid summer completion date. We need housing to become a system-wide priority. So far, only students and university-level administrators are feeling the urgency.

I encourage all of you to take part in the forthcoming advocacy efforts. Details to come.

Posted by: Sumner Handy, President

1 comment:

Carrie said...

The "fairly quickly" Duncan was referring to meant that the South Campus 368 dorm is supposed to open in January 2010, while the North Campus dorm is supposed to open in Fall 2011 (hopefully). That could have been more clear.

I am curious about the $35 million floating around. I'm not a financial planner, but apparently Vivona and Duncan thought that the North Campus dorm had a good chance of getting approved by the System for full cash funding. It's some complicated economics, and it depends a lot on what the other universities in the System request (which could be a lot, with the three HBCUs projected to almost double their enrollment over the next ten years). Therefore, the administration decided to take the $35 million they had and use it to fund another yet-to-be-decided project.

The South Campus PPP was expected to cost over $100 million because of it's extra amenities. As far as funding it partially with the $35 million and getting the rest from System -- who knows, maybe next year.