Over the past few months, the Retriever Event Center has begun to take shape. Located next to the stadium, the 172,000-square-foot building will host sports games, concerts and commencement. The only problem? It’s a massive waste of money.
This editorial board is not against the Event Center itself. Having a designated space on campus to host graduation ceremonies is a huge benefit and this space could also be contracted out for other events, earning UMBC some extra revenue.
Timing is the main issue in regards to the construction of the Event Center. When students cannot find parking, when there is a wait list for on-campus housing, when furniture in classrooms is broken, maybe the $85 million Event Center construction budget could have been better spent elsewhere.
The Event Center appears to be a well-designed space. A state-of-the-art athletic and event venue will add value to campus. That being said, this sort of space should not have been a spending priority yet. If the administration is hoping to expand UMBC, there are other needs that must be met before concert space. If UMBC expects to accommodate a larger student body, housing and parking should have taken precedence.
An equally frustrating factor is that housing projects are already a part of the UMBC Master Plan. Efforts for future growth include “a new residential community along Walker Avenue that would add an additional 342 beds” and “a new addition to Chesapeake Hall will provide 120 additional beds.” These are excellent plans that would markedly improve the residential side of campus. But, the conversation must have gone, ‘athletic space is more important than housing.’
Athletic space is evidently also more important than parking. We have all heard commuters talk about parking and it’s not just empty complaining. Parking is a real problem at UMBC. As we run out of space on campus, parking garages will need to take the place of current parking lots. At a rate of $25,000 per space to build a parking garage, the Event Center’s budget could have purchased an absurd 3,400 new parking spots. Why not build just a fraction of these and meet a huge student need?
Thus, our frustration arises because responsible expansion plans are already in place, and yet, administration made the irresponsible decision to break ground on an Event Center. This project should have taken place five or ten years down the line, after building more housing, more parking and more academic space. According to UMBC’s own projections, by 2019 there will be significant space deficits for laboratories, offices, study spaces and housing. These are needs that should have been met before a massive event venue.
The Event Center would seem to be the brick-and-mortar embodiment of UMBC’s expansion priority: optics. Construction projects seem to have been driven by an impetus to spruce up UMBC’s image. A shiny new Event Center right next to the entrance of campus is a sexy project. Parking garages and apartments are not sexy projects.
The Facilities Management website confirms this misguided emphasis on aesthetics. The Event Center, it reads, will provide “an interesting and exciting sense of arrival for students.” That’s an excellent goal, but it should be one that is ancillary rather than central. “Interesting and exciting” is not what students need. Every time we drive past the construction site, we’re reminded – we need building projects that are useful, not sexy.