Pitt seeks Oakland housing expansion

By Liz Navratil

Pitt is considering buying a building on Oakland Avenue to construct more dorms.

The Board of Trustees’ Property and Facilities Committee approved Friday the purchase of a building at 315 Oakland Ave., which is next to the Bouquet Gardens dormitories. If the sale goes through — the University is expected to close on the deal in December — the University will pay $1.395 million for the 2.5-story building, which could hold an additional 200 students.

“The University believes that the land is well-suited for additional undergraduate student apartments,” Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran said in a news release. “We are conducting zoning and design studies to advance the necessary planning for the project.”

The committee also approved the construction of a new $5.42 million dormitory at Pitt’s Bradford campus and a new $9.66 million fitness center at the Johnstown campus.

The announcement of the construction projects came after a full board meeting in the William Pitt Union Friday morning.

Members of the Board of Trustees met for about two hours Friday. Chancellor Mark Nordenberg spent part of the meeting describing what he called “good news” for the University. Pitt’s main campus reported accepting its “best-qualified” freshman class, with 50 percent of incoming freshmen ranking in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. In 1995, 19 percent of incoming freshmen were in the top 10 percent of their classes.

For the first time, the Bradford campus enrolled more than 1,500 students.

Nordenberg also discussed what he called the University’s biggest challenges within the last three weeks: the G-20 Summit, H1N1 and SB1036. He said little during the meeting about the Summit, except that visits from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and president of the EU European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, “did bring very positive attention to the University.”

He didn’t mention H1N1 again, instead choosing to focus on SB1036, a state bill that will determine how much money Pitt will receive in appropriations. The bill passed through the state Senate and is now in the state House of Representatives.

Nordenberg described the bill as “one of several bills that essentially are being held hostage within the House as wrangling over positions … continues.”

He said that because Pitt is a state-related university, it is classified as a non-preferred institution, meaning that more legislators must approve appropriations for Pitt than for other institutions.

“When you think about the way most Pennsylvanians would rank their own priorities, the term non-preferred seems misplaced in this context,” Nordenberg said.

He then referred to a slide with a quote from Otto von Bismarck, a German chancellor in the late 1800s.

“Laws are like sausages,” the slide read. “It is better not to see them being made.”

Nordenberg added, “Four months into the fiscal year, one might say it’s just not clear if Pennsylvania has a functioning fiscal system.”

After the meeting, Nordenberg responded to questions about the Summit.

During students’ court hearings, city police Lt. Ed Trapp testified that officers arrested people on the Cathedral of Learning lawn because Pitt police chief Tim Delaney told him campus police didn’t want anyone on University property the Thursday night before the Summit. Trapp said he hadn’t spoken with Delaney about plans for the next night and that, “My understanding was that it would be the same Friday night.”

Nordenberg said, “If in fact there was any such direction from the University, that would have been a surprise to me.”

He added that the Pitt police, whether it was Delaney or members of his command staff, headed much of the security coordination for the Summit with city police, with whom they had “fairly regular contact.”

Nordenberg said he was in Oakland during the Summit-related demonstrations, during which about 50 Pitt students were arrested. He said he communicated with Delaney through phone the nights of the demonstrations and that he chose not to interfere with arrests because he thought they were a “law enforcement issue.”

Still, he added, “We have a nice, peaceful, welcoming campus, so the idea of arrests occurring on campus was a troubling image.”

Nordenberg said he would have changed a few aspects of the University’s approach to the Summit. He said it might have helped to use the University’s Emergency Notification System the Thursday night before the Summit and that “it might well have been a good idea if the officers … had a higher level of familiarity with campus.”