Opinion | Construction on campus is inconvenient but could be worthwhile


Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

The closure of the Chevron and Eberly stairs, the main passages to upper campus and Panther and Irvis Halls from Chevron Science Center, have impacted students by requiring them to find alternate ways to move between upper and lower campus.

By Paige Lawler, Staff Columnist

Upon returning to campus from winter break, students may have been surprised to discover several of their usual paths around campus were inaccessible due to construction. The front entrance and all of the Bigelow side of the William Pitt Union are now completely inaccessible, as are the stairs behind Eberly Hall and the stairs that lead from Irvis Hall to the Chevron Science Center.

These closures and changes are the result of recent construction on campus, which has been making significant alterations to the landscape since Bigelow Boulevard closed in fall 2019. Inaccessibility and change on campus is frustrating and inconvenient for students. However, there is hope that at the end of the construction lies a revitalized, more sustainable campus.

Currently, the closure of the Chevron and Eberly stairs have impacted students by requiring them to find alternate ways to move between upper and lower campus.  Likewise, the closure of the front entrance to the William Pitt Union over break has caused a large disruption for students in terms of their mobility. Where students were previously able to enter from a series of four different doors on the Fifth Avenue entrance, they are now required to enter either through the bottom level on Forbes Avenue or using the entrances in the Schenley Quadrangle.

The University sent students an email informing them about the aforementioned changes that would happen over the break. Unfortunately, this email was delivered to a secondary inbox of students’ Pitt emails and was likely not seen by a majority of the student population. Another downfall of this communication was its timing, as it was delivered over the winter recess when students were probably less likely to check their university emails.

This lack of communication was a small blunder in Pitt’s journey to improve and revitalize campus, mainly because the changes made have seriously impacted students’ ability to move between upper and lower campus by effectively shutting off two of three major walking routes to lower campus. These changes require students to adjust their usual routes from upper to lower campus, as well as making students readjust their routines in order to get to class on time — my own walk from upper to lower campus now takes nearly twice as long as it did before construction started.

But all this obstruction isn’t pointless — it’s simply a side effect of efforts to create a better, greener campus, as outlined in the Campus Master Plan, a document that, in a whopping 435 pages, describes the goals and framework for campus development over the coming decade.

Pitt has been working on the Campus Master Plan for several months now, with Senior Vice Chancellor of Business and Operations Gregory Scott overseeing the logistics of construction.

Scott, in an interview, explained that the plan has been in motion for some time, with some of the earlier projects including renovations in Hillman Library. The most recent progress on the plan includes the Bigelow Block Transformation Project and preparing to build a new fitness and recreation center on O’Hara Street.

The Bigelow Block Transformation Project was the first project in the Campus Master Plan to seriously impact student mobility. It involved shutting down the entire street, thus eliminating the crosswalk leading from the WPU to the Cathedral of Learning and moving the campus shuttle stops outside the Cathedral to Forbes Avenue.

The Project is, according to Scott, a sort of building block for future projects and renovations on Pitt’s campus. Combining the fundamental nature of the project with the busy nature of Oakland required careful consideration in scheduling the construction.

“We spent a lot of time thinking about that project and we said could we do that project over two summers … because we didn’t want to disrupt the students and the community during the academic year,” Scott said. “As it turned out we could do it faster and more efficiently … if we just did it in a nine month period, straight through. It was gonna have impacts but … when students come back in the fall of [2020] it would be done.”

While there are several downfalls to the construction on campus, particularly considering students and their established routines, the University seems to be carefully planning projects with an environmentally conscious attitude. This should at least ease some of the ire toward these projects, since they will hopefully be to the benefit of not only students, but also the environment upon completion.

One of the goals of construction is to ensure that each new building obtains a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, which is a standard that requires buildings to use recycled materials or reuse pre-existing materials and use natural resources that were obtained with minimal destruction to their ecosystems. Enforcing this standard will certainly help to reduce the impact the countless construction projects will have on the environment, and should help Pitt move toward the sustainable future it has planned.

Another goal of the Campus Master Plan is to increase the tree canopy in the region by 50%, which is at the very least an encouraging thing to hear. According to Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick, the University hopes to achieve this goal by 2030, though a large portion of the trees may not be planted on Pitt’s campus due to limited space in Oakland. Knowing that Pitt is keeping the overall environmental impact of these projects in mind is somewhat comforting given some of the detriments construction has already had on the campus.

For example, on the hillside beside the Chevron Science Center, a number of trees have been cut down in preparation for the new fitness and recreation center. One of the goals of the University is to replace these trees with species that are native to the region, as well as to use more native plants in landscaping around campus. This effort to improve the botanical environment on campus is a benefit of the construction, and it shows that, in spite of the current inconvenience for some students, there will be long term benefits for the environment once construction is completed.

While the push toward sustainability is encouraging and very important, the downfalls of living on a campus that is undergoing constant renovations are likely to weigh more heavily on students’ opinions of these projects. However, if the University upholds and achieves these goals, the construction may well be worth the inconvenience it poses to students in the long run.

Paige Lawler primarily writes about environmental issues and policy for The Pitt News. Write to her at [email protected]