May 6, 2004

Human Ecology Requests $35 Million From State

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Although Gov. George Pataki’s budget this upcoming fiscal year allocates $25 million for the rebuilding project of Martha Van Rensselaer Hall North, the University in late January requested this number to be bumped up to $35 million after projected square foot calculations were less than the actual needed space.

While initial budgeting was done by the SUNY Construction Fund, the University realized that the State failed to take into account certain storage spaces in its calculations and filed a request in January 2004, said Gregg Travis, director of the contract colleges facilities office. Additionally, the initial State estimate was made three years ago, and construction costs have increased since then.

Travis indicated that the new building will contain approximately 87,600 square feet — approximately the same amount found in the old MVR North. It is projected that the total cost will range between $31.7 million and $35.6 million.

Condemned since August 2001 because of cracks in its concrete floor slabs, the loss of the 37-year-old MVR North further exacerbated the College of Human Ecology’s space problems, said Patsy Brannon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology. The construction and design of the old MVR North was originally managed by the SUNY Construction Fund in the 1960s.

Brannon said that even with the opening of the MVR West addition in November 2002, and the potential addition MVR North space, the college still lacks approximately 20,000 square feet needed for its programs. And although the West addition added much desired instructional space, the college is undergoing renovations in the basement and ground floor in sections of MVR to improve the quality and amount of space for the human development department.

“Virtually every aspect of our program has been impacted in the past three years,” Brannon said. “[The rebuilding] is a very important thing for our college.”

The College of Human Ecology will have to wait at least a months for the Albany legislature as the new state budget has largely not been decided. Already, University officials including Brannon, President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 and others have lobbied for support according to Stephen Philip Johnson, assistant vice president for government affairs.

Although Johnson said that Lehman and other individual’s efforts in lobbying for more funds have been extremely positive, it is unclear whether Albany will increase funding to the MVR project. “You can’t say any sure thing in a state government until it is done,” Johnson said.

The University has already gained support from one individual in the form of assemblymember Barbara Lifton (D-125th District), who sent a letter to State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver asking him to support Cornell’s MVR North project.

Although Lifton acknowledges that this is “a tough fiscal year,” she said that there are signs of improvement within the New York State economy and added that the issue concerning MVR North is a problem which needs to be addressed.

“This is a SUNY project and the state should really have to pay for the building,” Lifton said.

Even though there seems to be some life in the economy, the governor’s budget still takes a hit at higher education. For example, similar to last year, Pataki’s current proposal involves deferral of payments from the Tuition Assistance Program. Although this move was rescinded last year, Johnson said there is still some concern even though this year’s revenue projects appear to be “brighter than what we were anticipating.”

Regarding MVR North, Brannon, Johnson and others are cautiously optimistic that Albany will approve increased funding plans sometime this summer even though it is hard to tell what the legislature will decide.

“I think the legislature has understood the problem and indicated to us that they understand the need,” Brannon said. “I think that now it remains to be seen what the financial picture of the State is.”

Travis said that architects from the firm, Arquitectonica, have already been hired and concepts are currently being developed for what the proposed building would look like. The college hopes that it will have a schematic design by the fall, but if the state does not approve the increased funding, the University will have to make contingency plans and draw up a new building concept. “We don’t even want to go there,” Travis said.

Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Senior Editor