Staff editorial: Unanswered questions remain about construction’s impact on campus life
Better communication about projects is key to minimizing inconvenience
Last fall, construction began to replace outdated steam pipes with energy-saving Low Temperature Hot Water (LTHW) piping system. Each campus building will need to be connected to the new system, a move that will AU’s carbon emissions. The scope of the project was described as “massive” by David Dower, AU’s assistant vice president for project management.
The project will minimize the University’s carbon footprint by nearly 50 percent and will save AU around $1.5 million per year in energy costs.
With all of these benefits, there have also been multiple downsides to the extensive construction project. Beyond being just a general inconvenience, the construction has posed an unnecessary strain upon community members with accessibility issues due to lack of communication from the University. Mobility-impaired people are left to largely fend for themselves as the landscape of the campus grounds continue to shift, blocking off routes and paved roads.
Further, in the case of an emergency, The Eagle is interested in what, if any, alternate plans exist for those buildings with obstructed routes to safety. Already, the University has faced an evacuation due to a fire near Hughes Hall. If there are alternate plans for how to evacuate campus, students deserve to know about them.
According to administrators, LTHW construction on the south side of the campus is set to be finished by April. It will then gradually shift toward the north side of campus. However, AU has a track record of failing to meet timetables and deadlines. For example, East Campus construction was delayed for several months before students could move into their dorms.
For those graduating in May, what will this mean for the “massive” influx of proud family members reasonably expecting to be able to get to commencement ceremonies? Will the construction be done in time?
There are also open questions about in what impact the construction may have upon tours and applications to the University, especially given the University budget is tuition-based.
We recognize that the construction, whether that be LTHW or the new Hall of Science, are extremely beneficial for our university and its future students, particularly those studying sciences.
At the same time, we must confront that one of the primary allures of our campus is its natural beauty. Critters like rats are being disturbed by the construction, making appearances in living space as well as eating space. Additionally, the University is plagued by lack of parking space, and construction has exacerbated the issue.
In the end, the issue also comes down to communication from the University. Putting our heads down and enduring the minor inconveniences might work for the short term, but the long-term prospects of this project necessitate the University communicate in an effective and timely manner.
The University should address what recourse exists for members of our community with accessibility needs. It should communicate what the alternate plans for emergency evacuation of buildings affected by construction. It should be upfront about backup plans for unavoidable delays like the quickly incoming winter season as well as the consequences the disturbance has had upon the arboretum’s ecological health.
It is imperative that the University communicates this urgently and openly to address the sincere concerns of community members with accessibility needs, but also to sell the importance of the undertaking to large portions of students who might otherwise see it as a ‘“massive” inconvenience.
This article originally appeared in The Eagle's November 2018 fall print edition.