University students frustrated with outdated residential halls, a run-down library and a lack of disability accommodations around campus may soon see improvements. Although they may have to wait until a variety of other maintenance projects are completed.
Many older buildings on campus are not ADA compliant. Prescott Hall and Allen Hall, for instance, are both labeled as wheelchair inaccessible, according to the Facility Services’ deferred maintenance list. Parker Coliseum and Dalrymple building are also listed for ADA compliance issues.
All of these projects are scheduled to be completed after an array of window replacements, utility infrastructure repairs and roof renovations are done.
“We can’t do it all tomorrow,” Associate Vice President of Planning, Design and Construction Roger Husser said. “But as we learn about those critical areas, those are the ones we direct funds at.”
A few critical areas on the $616 million-list involve asbestos. Woodin Hall needs $125,000 to replace asbestos flooring and hallways. Middleton needs $400,000 to replace asbestos flooring on the first floor by the stacks. The Engineer Quad Steam Tunnel needs 50 feet of asbestos abatement, costing $200,000.
In E. B. Doran Hall, the fire alarm system needs to be replaced, costing $100,000. The fire alarm system for the Food Science building also needs to be replaced, costing $50,000.
Chopin Hall did not make the deferred maintenance list, though the building has a threshold that is difficult for wheelchairs to get over. Additionally, the building has only one handicap ramp, located at the side of the building farthest away from the handicap parking spots.
Executive Director of Facility & Property Oversight Tammy Millican said she is currently involved with a Student Government initiative to install proper Braille signage in some of the older, historic buildings and fix incorrect Braille plates.
Last year, the quote came out to be upwards of $60,000, but Facility Services and SG are working together to prioritize buildings or classrooms to bring the cost down to something more manageable.
“We’re always trying to find creative ways, whether it be through grants or other sources of funding, to take care of some of these problems,” Millican said.
Millican said students, faculty and staff can help determine the priority of on-campus maintenance issues. When students complained about a dimly lit parking lot on South Quad Drive last year, Facility Services and SG added lighting to those areas.
The lack of Braille signage around campus came to Facility Services’ attention after a political communication class conducted research on the University’s ADA compliance.
Ultimately, projects are delayed for financial reasons or because there was a more urgent issue that needed to be addressed. Things like roof replacements, broken air conditioning units and implementing handicap accessibility receive top priority.
Allen Hall and Prescott Hall are currently on the list, needing to be made wheelchair-accessible. According to the list, this would cost $150,000 per hall.
The University usually has between 70 and 80 different construction projects underway.
“We have to think about how many people are affected,” Millican said. “With this amount of money, what can we do to help the most people?”
Director of Capital Project Management and Development Paul Favaloro said prioritizing maintenance needs is also a very collaborative process. Team members plan the list years in advance and adjust it when unforeseen needs arise.
For instance, a sudden increase in freshman class sizes led to a suspension of the demolition of Miller, Hergert and McVoy residential halls.
“Ultimately they will come down, but because of our enrollment growth and the freshman housing requirement we have to keep using them a few more years until we can replace them,” Husser said.
Hergert, Miller and McVoy were originally going to be demolished over the summer and replaced by two new residence halls. While construction on the two new residence halls will still be completed in August 2021, the older dorms will remain standing.
Kirby Smith Hall is still slated for demolition. Husser said the only reason it hasn’t been demolished yet is because of concerns about the noise and dust disturbing students during the semester. The demolition, scheduled for May, will require three months of cleanup.
Another upcoming project is Tiger Stadium football field renovations, which will start Dec. 1. Maintenance will be cutting down the football field by two feet, rebuilding the drainage and gravel and replacing the turf.
Athletics projects are self-funded and don’t use the University’s maintenance budget, though many don’t realize that the funds are separate. Earlier this year, there was controversy surrounding the new football locker rooms, when some students and faculty were unhappy about the new sports amenities while Middleton Library still had torn furniture and a flooded basement.
“People say, ‘Why can’t you take the money from athletics?” Millican said. “Well, that’s their money. It’s self-generated.”
Husser said one of the main projects he would like to see funded is the Studio Arts building.
“It’s in very, very poor condition,” Husser said. “We’re hopeful the state will provide the rest of the money for the renovations.”
Millican is passionate about building a new library in a more convenient location for students. The plan for the new library is to relocate near the T-33 aircraft on South Stadium Drive, to better serve business and engineering students.
Although a new library is something many University faculty have been wanting for years, there are no concrete plans to begin construction. Husser said this leaves Facility Services in a difficult situation, since the library is in need of renovation but they don’t want to invest money in a structure that may soon be rebuilt.
Director of Communications and Publications Sigrid Kelsey said she has seen improvements in the condition of Middleton, including the addition of nearly 100 power plugs on the first floor and mitigation of the basement water leaks. The transformation of the first floor made her think about possible improvements for other library spaces.
“We could create more comfortable spaces for studying individually or collaboratively, and add features that students use heavily, like power outlets and white boards,” Kelsey said.
Another benefit of the new library would be safety. At the new location, transportation would be able to retrieve students from the door instead of making them walk to a pick-up point. Right now, there’s no way for a vehicle to get close to Middleton.
“We know what we want to do, it’s a matter of funding the project,” Husser said.