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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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AU will be under constant construction until 2026

The University held three budget community forums in March discussing the plans, emphasized transparency

American University is planning massive renovations and facility changes over the next few years. 

The University stressed transparency and community involvement in three budget meetings hosted over the last month, which detailed its plans for the next three years.

Student Thriving Complex

The University is preparing for a facilities shuffle to accommodate the Student Thriving Complex, which is the largest upcoming project and the largest student-focused project in University history. The Complex will cost an estimated $89 million, which will go toward constructing new spaces and renovating old ones.

Construction for the Complex in the tunnel is already underway as the University renovates the space formerly occupied by a Capital One bank location. The Eagle’s Nest will move to the former Capital One space, which is currently not in use, and will be replaced by the campus bookstore. The Academic Support and Access Center will be relocated from Mary Graydon Center and will replace the bookstore. Construction in the tunnel began in October 2022 and is set to be completed in July 2023.

The second floor of MGC, using newly freed-up space, will house the Student Engagement Commons, which will include the Center for Community Engagement and Service, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the Office of New Student and Family Programs and the Center for Student Involvement.

Bronté Burleigh-Jones, AU’s chief financial officer and treasurer, ran two of the budget meetings.

“When the students come back for the January 2024 semester, all of our student support services will be in a centralized location,” Burleigh-Jones said. 

Construction in MGC will continue through February 2026 to complete the Student Well-Being Commons, which will be housed in the Student Thriving Complex.

The University is building a sound wall next to Jacobs Field to reduce the noise on neighboring properties. The wall, which was approved by the D.C. Zoning Commission in February 2023, is a project the University is required to complete before it may begin construction on other campus plan projects. The Jacobs sound wall is expected to be completed by the fall 2023 semester.

Construction on the new Meltzer Center for Athletic Performance and the new Sports Center Annex is likely to begin in 2024 and finish in 2026. The Meltzer Center will be behind Bender Arena and the current Sports Center Annex, next to Reeves Field. The first floor of the renovated Sports Center Annex will become part of the Complex and house the Center for Well-Being and Psychological Services, the Student Health Center and the Jacobs Fitness Center, according to Burleigh-Jones. It will be connected to the Meltzer Center through an enclosed bridge. The Meltzer Center will also include a 750-seat volleyball and wrestling arena with a sky box. 

Other campus projects

In addition to the construction in the tunnel, AU is making changes to the meal plan. They are refreshing Subway and Starbucks, and Panera and Qdoba locations will open next year. 

“We are making enhancements to the meal plan, and I don’t think we’ve made significant changes to the meal plan in over 20 years,” Burleigh-Jones said. “And so we are rolling those changes out for our students.”

Other campus projects include Sudama, a large rock sculpture gifted to the University by the National Geographic Museum, which was completed and formally dedicated on April 4. AU was also gifted a house on Nebraska Avenue, which is intended for the University president’s residence. It was renovated over the last year using funds acquired by selling a previous president’s house. The president expects to host events at the house, including graduation celebrations, by May 2023.  

Leonard Hall, which was last renovated in 2007, will be renovated over the summer and completed on August 15. Renovations include pod-style restrooms, which will be lockable, single-stall rooms with a toilet and shower. Students will still share sinks. McDowell Hall, last renovated in 2011, is also set for renovations in 2024.

After an alleged sexual assault took place in Leonard last fall, students demanded that the University address sexual violence on campus. Many students raised concerns that shower stalls in Leonard Hall do not have locks.

“[The renovation] does address the number of the concerns that our students had raised,” Burleigh-Jones said, “but you should know that was already in the works before we had the event on campus that caused the concerns.”

Year-end budget projections and plans for 2024

Burleigh-Jones said that the University projects a potential $9 million to $15 million operating deficit for the 2024 fiscal year. AU has a total operating budget of $854 million, and the expected shortfall is about two percent of the total operating budget.

This deficit is largely caused by lower enrollment than was projected. 92 percent of University revenue is student generated. During fall 2023, AU reached a new student enrollment goal for undergraduates but did not meet the enrollment goal for graduate students. Both the undergraduate and graduate classes also had lower retention rates than projected. Overall, the University acquired about $30 million less in revenue than expected.

The University plans to make up for lost revenue by the end of the fiscal year by saving on supplies and expenses, including significant savings on online programs, lower utility costs due to an abnormally warm winter and unfilled jobs.

Burleigh-Jones said that AU will continue to analyze how the budget shortfalls will affect students. She also stressed a community effort to reduce the budget deficit as much as possible and asked that people reduce their spending wherever possible without suspending programs.

“We say we share stewardship of the University’s resources. So it’s not a budget office thing — this is an AU thing that we all have to be mindful [of] as we go forward,” she said.

The University expects the cost of attendance to increase in the 2024 fiscal year. As a result, AU will also need to invest more in undergraduate financial aid. 

Space management

“For a very long time, how we’ve managed space on campus has kind of been like the wild, wild west,” Burleigh-Jones said.

To counter this, AU launched the Office of Space Planning and Management in January 2023 using existing budget resources. The Office conducted the University’s first comprehensive space audit and is planning a workplace pilot program.

The Office plans to consolidate offices in the Spring Valley Building used by the Office of Finance and Treasury and move them to the third floor of the New Mexico Avenue building. This will open up between 15,000 to 17,000 square feet of space in Spring Valley. If the pilot program goes well, the University may consider similar options for properties on Wisconsin Avenue and Connecticut Avenue.

The University owns property on the second and third floors of 3201 New Mexico Ave. University offices are currently on both of those floors. To more efficiently use the space, the Office plans to consolidate University offices and move them to the third floor and rent space on the second floor to gain lease revenue. 

“Based on the demand that we have for those spaces right now, we could generate up to an extra million dollars in leasing income annually,” said Burleigh-Jones.

This article was edited by Abigail Pritchard, Jordan Young and Nina Heller. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Leta Lattin, Luna Jinks, Sarah Clayton and Stella Guzik.

Correction: A previous version of this story said construction of the Center will begin in May and finish in 2024. The story has been updated to reflect that it is likely to start in 2024 and be completed in 2026.

nlachac@theeagleonline.com 


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