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Building projects sacrifice function for innovation

When walking across Erickson Field late at night, one cannot help but notice the number of street lights that stand dark. Already, less than a month into the semester, no less than four such lights have been reduced to such a state of disrepair that they no longer function. It is not only Erickson Field that is struck by this. The entire campus has seemingly been afflicted by rotting infrastructure.

When visiting the Administration Building, the tallest building on campus, one soon learns that there is only one functional elevator, with the other in a seemingly perpetual state of maintenance. This makes a trip from the first floor to the tenth up to a twenty-minute affair, leaving many working in the building to trek up and down the attached stairwells.

Across campus, Erickson Hall, which is home to 447 occupants, is also faced with an elevator which has broken down at least four times in the last month. This is not merely an inconvenience for the residents, but a serious hazard for those who face mobility concerns.

This hazard is compounded by the repeated failures of the accessibility features on campus. Often, the handicap door openers do not open the doors they intend to. This semester there have already been instances of handicap doors on the Commons building being left locked for no published reason. This sort of impediment has also been seen in True Grit’s, wherein the button to open the rear handicap door has, at times, randomly ceased to function.

The failures of campus infrastructure are not the product of a lack of resources. Rather, they are failures of priority. Right now there are no fewer than three major construction projects on campus: one to construct a new events center, one to build a new Interdisciplinary Life Sciences building, and one to redo the Commons roof. These are all huge undertakings, yet their utility to students does not really share that impact.

Why then focus on big projects with little impact over little projects with huge impact? The answer may be twofold. First, grant money makes big products cheap. The State of Maryland alone has earmarked $59,386,000 for new collegiate buildings for the 2017 fiscal year.

Second, new buildings and plans for new buildings give the university the strong appearance of being “Up and Coming,” a title UMBC administration is particularly fond of. Many college ranking sites and magazines take the amenities on campus into heavy consideration when ranking the university, with less consideration towards the upkeep of those amenities.

Ultimately, the administration needs to acknowledge that bigger, brighter, newer, and flashier does not translate into a better, more meaningful education, and even stifles such when basic maintenance is ignored. While students may benefit from new facilities, students will definitely benefit from maintaining the utility of those facilities that already exist.