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Lecture Center Renovations Shift Faculty and Students Downtown

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The gut renovation of several lecture centers that began last month has disrupted some courses and frustrated faculty, according to United University Professions Albany leaders.

The renovation of centers 10 through 15 is the next step in a plan to update University at Albany’s aging infrastructure and buildings, a plan which will eventually include renovating every Lecture Center in phases.

“It’s been a challenge,” said UUP Albany President Aaron Major. “Most directly we have faculty now who are teaching classes downtown because there just isn’t a space for them to teach on campus. This is problematic, and I also know that offices are constantly being shuffled around, so they can find it frustrating.”

Major expressed understanding that this moving of faculty is often necessary when upgrading aging facilities.

“The motivation for the project is pretty straightforward: buildings and systems only have so long of a useful life prior to requiring replacement and renewal,” said John Giarrusso, associate vice president of Finance and Administration for Facilities Management in an email. “We’ve been striving to focus on classrooms around the Podium for years; and now it’s time for the lecture center facilities.”

A 2016 report by the SUNY Construction Fund, a public benefit corporation which funds SUNY construction projects (including the renovation at hand), found that over 70 percent of UAlbany’s total facilities square footage is 40 or more years old.

The 2012 Facilities Master Plan written by the university laid out a framework for renovating the entire campus. The document predicted that classes previously housed in the lecture centers under construction could be relocated in the downtown Schuyler building. This building is not yet available, but Giarrusso said this discrepancy is because the Facilities Master Plan was only a general outline, subject to funding changes.

“We have not reduced the sizes of any courses based on the LC renovation plans,” said Giarrusso in an email.

The Rockefeller College of Public Administration and Policy has been feeling pressure in finding space for classes, with renovations of rooms around campus contributing to the complexity of the puzzle, according to the Assistant to the Dean and Chairs, Barbara Matthews.

Matthews said that some professors may have had to take rooms that were less desirable, but that this was not necessarily caused by the renovations. Commenting on the possibility that future classes could be moved downtown (such as to Page Hall or Schuyler, once completed), Matthews said that her major concern was transportation of students between campuses.

“I see speed limits as a problem, not rooms,” said Matthews. Since there is a minimum of 10 minutes between any two classes, a student on the uptown campus would need to get downtown in a shorter amount of time than it usually takes to drive or take the bus.

Though a driver going at the speed limit of 30 mph could technically get from Collins Circle to the downtown campus in seven minutes, this time is often lengthened due to traffic. By bus, the ride is around 15 minutes.

Giarrusso said that the administration was not yet at the stage of deliberating where to move classes when more rooms come under construction.

The current project, which SUNY Construction Fund hired Bunkoff General Contractors, Inc. to carry out for $1.9 million also involves knocking down walls between rooms to create two large lecture halls out of four previous smaller rooms. Giarrusso said that he anticipated that Lecture Centers 10 through 15 would be fully functional for 2018’s fall classes.

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Joe Hoffman is the managing editor for the Albany Student Press.

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