Opinion | Master Plan will fail Pitt students


Image via University of Pittsburgh

Building projects outlined in the Campus Master Plan are scheduled for completion over the next three decades.

By Cammy Morsberger, For The Pitt News

Pitt’s campus will be unrecognizable in 30 years.

The University released a draft of its comprehensive Campus Master Plan in late September, outlining ambitious building projects and enhancements to existing campus structures that will take place over the next three decades. Some of the most significant developments include an Integrated Health Sciences Complex, a pedestrian bridge by UPMC and a new north campus residence hall — but Pitt needs to make adjustments to its Master Plan to avoid tuition increases and massive construction projects that undeniably interfere with student life.

“We propose significant improvements to academic buildings, the development of student housing and the revamping of campus infrastructure,” Pitt spokesperson Joe Miksch said. “Additions to campus exercise and recreation options are included in the Master Plan draft and intended to enhance the student experience.”

While there’s no doubt new campus facilities could add comfort and convenience to students’ lives, those enhancements come at a price — literally and figuratively. According to Miksch, “there is no final [price] at this point,” but considering the sheer size of the plan, it’s safe to say the total will be significant.

Pitt students are already familiar with noisy construction on campus — and many of them don’t want more of it. The Schenley Quad renovation, which began spring term and ended in October, elicited numerous complaints from students, especially Quad residents.

Samantha Walter, a senior psychology major and former Amos Hall resident, told The Pitt News in April the renovation was “a waste of time and money.” Others complained about the tremendous noise construction brought about as well. The Quad renovation clearly disrupted student life, but it was only a tiny project compared to the Master Plan.

One proposed improvement in the Master Plan concerns Bigelow Boulevard’s pedestrian crosswalk, where cars often speed past hundreds of students trying to walk across for classes in the Cathedral. The “mid-block crossing improvements” will pave and widen the crosswalk to accommodate more students — but during the construction process students may need to seek an alternative route in a busy, high-traffic area of the City, possibly making the “improvement” more of an inconvenience, or even a safety hazard.

These inconveniences aren’t mere speculation, either — they’re actual reality at Carnegie Mellon University, which is currently undergoing its own Master Plan. CMU has closed off several major buildings and streets due to continuous construction — most notably, the sidewalks along Forbes.

According to a CMU report, 100,000 workers and 120,000 pedestrians are in Oakland each day, meaning detours and road blockages severely inhibit normal travel, including students’ commutes.

“It all feels unnecessary,” Justin Gotzis, a CMU first-year majoring in art and global studies. “I don’t like how out of the loop I am with it. It feels like we’re paying for the construction but aren’t even told what it’s for.”

But besides the nuisance of construction, the renovations will create another major issue for students — cost. While Pitt’s construction will be funded by several sources, including individual donors and sponsors, the maintenance of new facilities could factor into future tuition, according to Miksch.

“It is true that we set aside operating budget funds each year to maintain existing facilities as well as new facilities that come online,” Miksch said. “Tuition dollars are one source of funding for our operating budget along with the Commonwealth Appropriation and certain other revenue sources.”

Pitt already is one of the most expensive public universities in the country, so with updated features on campus, students could pay a lot more for the same education.

The University could avoid these problems simply by cutting back the scale of the project and eliminating arbitrary changes.

Pitt plans to construct upgraded athletics facilities in addition to academic buildings, such as a 400m outdoor track, an expanded Petersen Events Center and an indoor multi-purpose facility.

With a current budget of about $60 million and millions in ticket sales, more athletic funding seems unnecessary. Also, most of these projects will only go toward the 3.6 percent of students who are varsity athletes, meaning that much of the cost will benefit a minority of Pitt students.

In addition to cutting unnecessary projects, Pitt could also extend the estimated completion date to 40 or 50 years to ease up-front costs and eliminate huge hubs of construction.

The Master Plan is full of gem projects, but Pitt can’t just bulldoze the entire neighborhood to fulfill an urban university dream — there are students living and going to school here right now, and we have to ensure their comfort and well-being just as much as we should for future Panthers.

Write to Cammy at [email protected]