I did not think I would be writing an op-ed piece on Milstein Hall, and I do so with reservation. I do not want to ratchet up the rhetorical volume, which is often the unintended consequence of simply “trying to set the record straight.” But there is a pending University Faculty Senate motion advocating that Milstein Hall be put on hold to “ensure that this building addresses the current and future programmatic needs of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, while balancing the financial constraints and sustainability objectives of the university as a whole.” My desire is to address these three areas of concern — need, funding and sustainability — so that this project can not only break ground on schedule but do so accompanied by a university-wide feeling of accomplishment in difficult times.
Milstein Hall is the culmination of a decade-long struggle to address the College’s inadequate facilities. Several generations of AAP deans, department chairs, University presidents and provosts, and, unfortunately, architecture accreditation boards, have recognized the need for improved facilities. As designed, Milstein will provide approximately 15 studios on an open floorplate, dedicated critique space, a 275-person lecture hall and a small exhibition space. These are urgent, high priority, long-standing needs. Studio space is to an architecture student what laboratory space is to a chemistry student or what rehearsal rooms are to music students. Studio space is a teaching and learning tool, a pedagogical necessity, not merely square footage.
The building plans include upgrades to the ventilation system of East Sibley Hall, required by code, and modest alterations to Rand and Sibley Halls at the interface with the new structure. In the scope of work are improvements to the fire suppression and structural systems of the Foundry building, which are life-safety measures. The plans also include hard- and soft-scape improvements to the south of Sibley Hall, a space that currently reflects poorly on the campus image. Once completed, the whole of the AAP campus will be substantially better off than the mere sum of these alterations and additions.
Until the final construction contract is negotiated (mid-February), the cost of Milstein Hall and the associated work will not be known. The project — construction and so-called “soft costs” combined — was budgeted at $54 million. I can state, without pleasure, that this is a propitious time to build from a cost perspective, and the price will likely be under budget, in the range of $52 million or better, and not $60 million as erroneously stated last week in a letter printed in the pages of The Sun.
The University is under significant economic stress and it is entirely legitimate to ask questions about how precious funds are spent. The College is committed to funding fully 80 percent of the cost through a combination of philanthropy and borrowing. The College has established an operations and management fund to address long-term maintenance costs. The College has extremely loyal alumni and friends who have given generously in support of the building fund. But AAP is not rich and the burden is not minor. We would not invest our resources thus if we were not convinced that inadequate facilities are endangering our ability to maintain academic excellence and jeopardizing our core mission. There is no connection among tuition, financial aid and the College’s debt-service load, which will be secured by an existing College endowment dedicated to the enhancement of the architecture program.
There is probably no distance between the critics and the supporters of Milstein Hall with regard to sustainable building practices. No reasonable person can ignore the impact of the built environment on global climate change; by some estimates buildings consume more than 50 percent of the nation’s energy. A recent and increasingly popular means of codifying a building’s performance is the LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED scores a project on a range of areas using a scale from zero to 69 points. Some areas do not apply to certain projects — points are granted for brownfield reclamation: no brownfield, no points. Points are granted for contractor practices such as recycling material from on-site demolition; such practices need to be confirmed with the contractor during the contract negotiation before points can be awarded. LEED also grants points for sustainable maintenance regimes, which are not a design feature but a facilities management issue. LEED is meaningful, but like all systems embodies certain values; points are granted for providing employee showers within 200 yards of a project. This may improve the work environment but does not measure ecological footprint or direct energy consumption of a structure.
The LEED scorecard on Milstein is still a work in progress, points are still being tallied. But the most important point to be granted is that this University, and certainly AAP, is committed to sustainable building practices.