On Tuesday, Youngstown State University was hit with a bit of irony, and one student’s car was hit with a bit more than that.
President Jim Tressel laid out his fantastic vision for the future of campus Tuesday morning, and later that afternoon a large piece of concrete in the Lincoln Avenue parking deck fell, damaging one car and totaling another. It appears that the parking deck the university has discussed demolishing since 2009 has grown tired of waiting.
While Tressel and the YSU Foundation are hitting up donors for millions of dollars to build 6,800 square foot space portals between Jones Hall and Maag Library, the incredible amount of maintenance the university has deferred on existing buildings is creating serious safety concerns.
We don’t intend to completely dismiss Tressel’s vision. Improvements to Wick and Lincoln avenues are long overdue. The collaborative manufacturing space seems like a legitimate asset, if a costly one. The new student-apartment complexes, bookstore and retail space will be privately funded in accordance with Gov. John Kasich’s plan to make Youngstown the country’s first completely privatized city.
But that damned space portal. Tressel estimated the YSU Foundation would need to raise $9-10 million to fund its construction. Sure, initiatives related to retention and student success are spread all over campus, and it would be nice if they were consolidated, but there has to be a better, cheaper, less aesthetically offensive way to achieve that.
If Jones Hall’s appeal is that it looks like something out of Harry Potter, is attaching the bridge of the Star Trek Enterprise to its third floor the best way of maintaining that charm?
Still, the sheer scope of the plethora of projects Tressel outlined is overwhelming. He seemed overwhelmed, rushing from one project to the next sometimes not even stopping to complete sentences. The projects he gave fundraising estimates for require upwards of $37 million over the next couple years, so Paul McFadden at YSU Foundation and Mike Hripko, associate vice president of Research, have their work cut out for them.
But we need to consider the opportunity costs. A collaborative manufacturing center would be a good thing, but so would lots of other things that could be done with $20 million in foundation money and $10 million in state funding. The crumbling parking deck is proof that we are incapable of maintaining our existing infrastructure, let alone adding to it.
If we reach out to the community and try to obtain nearly $40 million over the next couple years to fund space portals and commercial corridors, will that make donors less likely to invest in scholarships and students in the future? Let’s remember why these buildings exist.
This trend isn’t new. It began at private universities, and now it’s moving to state institutions. Harvard University’s annual report assessing the 2012 fiscal year warned of “rapid, disorienting change” — which accurately encapsulates Tressel’s vision — and noted a “disconnect between ever-increasing aspirations and universities’ ability to generate new resources to finance them.”
The costs, it was determined, were passed on to students in the form of higher tuition. Even if donors fund the construction of these buildings, someone has to maintain them.
Shiny new buildings appeal to us, but we need to make sure things are in order before we expand. If we can gather together $40 million over two years, is it better spent constructing spaceships of student success or improving conditions for the adjunct faculty students spend so much of their time with?
Repairing parking decks and improving conditions for faculty may not look great on administrative resumes, but maybe they would go farther towards fulfilling the university’s mission to bring knowledge to the Valley.
Perhaps we’re being overly cautious. Call us Chicken Little, but in the Lincoln Avenue parking deck, the sky really is falling.
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