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  • Mikayla Alexander

Is Campus Renovation Funding Putting the Basic Needs of Students First?

By: Mikayla Alexander


According to the UMSL Timeline, this campus began as the Bellerive Country Club (BCC) in the 1950’s. In 1957, the BCC was bought by Normandy District and in 1963 the campus would be declared as the University of Missouri-St. Louis. It was not until the early 1960s that significant construction began to make the campus what it is today, starting with Benton Hall.


Today, the UMSL Campus Master Plan provides an analysis of the buildings they hope to renovate over five years (approved in 2021). This is a strongly curated plan stating that faculty, alumni, staff, students and key stakeholders were either surveyed or interviewed on things they would like to see changed. After gathering data, the needs of the campus were based on a few factors. These factors are;


1) The extent of how often all buildings/areas are used (and cutting costs of those not used enough).

2) Maintenance needed due to building age and condition.

3) Topography of the campus landscape prohibiting better pedestrian access.

4) Providing easily navigated transportation routes and better campus circulation.

5) Prioritizing outdoor open spaces for the UMSL community.


The plan provides a color-coded map of the buildings and the letter grade assigned to them based on their success in meeting expectations for the factors listed above. Many buildings on campus received grades below a B and were perceived as not currently fit to function.


Among the buildings with low maintenance grades and perceived room for significant repurposing, most of them are near the quad or in the South Campus. These buildings are Clark Hall (CH), Lucas Hall (LH) and the Social Sciences and Business Building (SSB).


These buildings indeed are not “fit-to-function", not just for the important overarching reasons established by UMSL, but also for lack of providing the successful function of basic amenities. 

 

The Social Sciences and Business Building is currently a construction scene, even preventing a consistent and ideal accessible path to walk across the quad from the direction of the West Drive Garage. According to the Transform UMSL updates, SSB is currently working on a new elevator, that will allow for interior renovations, the demolition of the SSB Tower and eventually SSB expansion.  



SSB construction coming from West Drive garage

Credit: Mikayla Alexander


These renovations are indeed of great importance, but it seems almost witless to use funding to prioritize large-scale projects when the simple functions of the SSB restrooms are not consistent. Many of the restrooms consist of automated technology to prevent high touch point bacterial transfers and many of these automated faucets or soap dispensers also do not consistently work.  


For example, the SSB first-floor women’s restroom, near room 115 and the entrance facing West Drive Garage, has an inadequate faucet. The fourth-floor women’s restroom, on the same floor as Social Work and near the SSB Computer Lab, has one auto soap dispenser that does not work and one auto faucet that does not work.  



Non-working filled auto soap dispenser in women’s restroom, first-floor of SSB

Credit: Mikayla Alexander


Even the Lucas Hall first-floor women’s bathroom near the SEA (Student Enrichment and Achievement) office has three automated soap dispensers that alternate in functionality despite being full. UMSL should be commended for its large-scale plans and their commitment to them, but what about the “simpler” and “smaller” issues that students have to face day-to-day, that easily fly under the radar? These minor issues should not even fly under the radar for students paying education tuition and they are not seeing the same urgency and investment for basic building amenities.


Will the new SSB expansion location on the North Quad be constructed with working restroom amenities that are consistently evaluated for functionality?


Shockingly, among the buildings being prioritized for renovation in the South Campus, Oak Hall was not one of them. Oak Hall received an A+ and is determined to be currently “fit to function” according to the UMSL Master Plan.


Iris, a social work major who resides in the dorm did express a few things that she wishes would be changed about Oak Hall. Not all her concerns may pertain to factors of functionality established by the master plan to green-light renovations. Even so, these are concerns that UMSL can afford to fix and better yet, pay attention to prioritizing them as on-campus living costs $3,778 a semester (not including meal rates). When asked if Iris likes living in the dorms she says, “It’s okay. I wouldn’t say spectacular. There are some things they could do to make it better to live in.”


When covering some things Iris would like changed, she mentioned heating and cooling issues during her stay.


“[We’ve had] heating and cooling problems the entire time. We worked around it by wetting a paper towel, freezing it, then putting it on the thermostat so the sensor will think it’s cold and kick on the heat,” she says.


Not only have Iris and her roommates needed to use a “hack” to get the thermostat to consistently work properly, but she also made other concerns known about the use of the communal kitchen and the C-Store. The Oak Hall C-store is a shortened name for a convenience store that offers various snacks, sweet treats and frozen meals. When Iris was asked about the communal kitchen and how often it’s used, she stated,


“Oh yeah, that is definitely something. So, I used to live in shelters, but I feel like these kids aren’t taught how to clean up after themselves and to expect them to clean after themselves... They need to figure something else out. There are those that know how to clean and those that trash the kitchen... maybe have people check out the kitchen. In the shelter, they have these small learning programs to fill the gap to teach life skills and stuff. It’s always dirty, I don’t know why people are going to use it.”


Iris does use the kitchen, but because there are not many other options. She claims that the C-Store is too expensive and suggests they should provide real groceries.


“Sometimes my roommates and I will use it [the kitchen], but wipe before and after. You have to spend your own money to use it. There’s nothing in the C-store to use to cook. It’s all microwave ... and we spend 10k a year to stay in there... So, we can’t have stuff in our dorms, so we buy overpriced food from the C-store or use the dirty kitchen or the mid food from the Prov,” she says.


Iris has some valuable concerns about the expectations of the kitchen status and the real food options available on campus. Adults from 18 to 25 years old should know how to clean up after themselves properly when using a kitchen. Unfortunately, there is no process ensuring that the kitchen is in suitable condition for the next user, when it is obvious not everyone knows how to maintain cleanliness. This makes it unfair for those who know these life skills and how to apply them out of respect for others.


If students wanted to gain independence and a sense of identity by living in the dorm, cleaning up after others, as would a parent for an incompetent child, is not the way to do it. Iris suggests a great resolution that she has experienced in the real world and believes it would be a good use of UMSL’s funds and time: Implement some basic life skills education for those who live in the dorm.


As there is a check-out log for the communal kitchen items, perhaps there should be one for the general use of the kitchen as well to hold others accountable for the mess.


An article by Ladue News stated that Transform UMSL is an estimated “$100 million development project." It is a great project, but the money received in the name of a better campus for students should not just go to prioritizing the big picture. The basis with which buildings like SSB received a low grade are important, but so are the more tedious issues. The factors that determine the high grading of Oak Hall should be re-evaluated solely based on actual students’ day-to-day concerns not limited to building functions, but also the price at which they live there and expect to have a more than “okay” experience.


Between the meal plan that is mandatory to live in the dorm (that does not offer refunds) and the tuition paid to live there, there should be less expensive C-store prices or maybe some actual quality food so it feels as if students are benefitting from their stay.


Students also should feel as if they are benefiting by having basic amenities that are upgraded or constantly monitored such as the dorm thermostats and the buildings’ restrooms.


Students have the right to functional and clean dorm living conditions. Students have the right to less expensive and better-quality foods for the price. Students have the right to properly operate restroom amenities. If there’s a frequency with which these basic accommodations do not work or a wide depth of which students do not feel fulfilled by living on campus, then there needs to be an equally prioritized allocation of funds to fix these areas of concern first.


Between the general tuition, the on-campus housing tuition, non-refundable meal plans and funding approved in the name of improving the campus for students, UMSL should have more than enough funds for simple inconveniences to be solved before over-looking them for projects that require over a year and millions of dollars to complete.


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