A few years from now, Portland State’s South Park Blocks will look quite different. The university recently announced that in addition to Smith Memorial Student Union, the Peter W. Stott Center will also be receiving an upgrade and remodel. Both of these new plans have been touted as great for students.
There have also been plans mentioned for expansions and renovations of classrooms, but not in great detail. But if PSU has such a concern for its students, why does my back hurt so much?
I’m referring to the horrible chairs and desks in most of the classrooms in Cramer and Neuberger Halls. You probably know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that screech every time you make the slightest motion and stab into you every time you lean back. The ones with seats that are shockingly bumpy or unpleasantly flat, no matter how creakily you try to adjust your position. The same ones that you’ve probably spent many uncomfortable hours sitting in during your time here at PSU.
If the school wants to renovate buildings, why are we only really hearing about the gym and the student union? Students spend more of their time in classrooms than they do in either of those buildings, and our classrooms are more outdated than both buildings put together.
For some background, the Stott Center is going to become the Viking Pavilion, touted as a future home of concerts, seminars and, of course, Viking basketball. Construction is expected to start in 2014 and has a projected cost of $44 million.
It will be financed by deferred maintenance funds, private donations and the recently approved urban renewal district funding. Smith will either have two wings converted or be demolished entirely for a complete rebuild. This process won’t begin until 2020, so very few current students will ever see it, but it is being built in the hopes of providing more space for student groups, more study space and to generally better provide for its students.
The urban renewal district was put into effect recently by the City of Portland. The area surrounding PSU will receive $169 million in property development and enhancements, and the university itself will receive $50 million in improvements.
It’s awesome that the replacement for the Stott Center won’t be coming directly from student fees or tuition (SMSU will likely be partially funded that way). But if we had deferred maintenance funds, couldn’t those have been used for renovating our classrooms just as well? I understand the long-term benefits for the university in the majority of these new projects; it makes no sense to me that we’ve been deferring maintenance funds to build something in the future when we could have been improving what we already had.
We may not have enough room in Smith, and the new plans for Stott are a great idea—someday. It’s important to build up our student organizations, and more impressive athletic performance will make PSU more attractive to traditional students (which is important if we’re going to keep up our current rate of growth). But, at the same time, it’s important to keep existing students in mind.
The administration has become so caught up with branding PSU an urban campus and an urban educational experience that it may not have noticed the shortcomings that have developed along with this branding. These are future projects, at least two years away in the case of Viking Pavilion/Stott and eight years in the case of SMSU. There is so much room for improvement right now, this year, and it’s being overlooked.
PSU needs to build up the campus and community, but sometimes the university overlooks students and its responsibility to make academics a priority.
If this money is restricted to infrastructure and property development, I concede we could improve conditions for students even if we didn’t update our classrooms. More affordable on- or near-campus housing (unlike University Pointe), repairs and updates to existing housing (maybe some actual showers in Blackstone and King Albert), better dining options, a 24-hour centralized computer lab and more room for large lectures all seem like better uses of money to me. PSU would be less of a commuter campus if there were better reasons to live on campus. I don’t see SMSU’s overhauls or the Viking Pavilion changing things for a majority of students, rather they will merely increasing PSU’s brand.
Rather than adding a couple of glassy new facades to the South Park Blocks in a few years, I wish PSU would place a greater priority on the here and now. If PSU President Wim Wiewel and Mayor Sam Adams are going to claim this is a blighted area, then let’s address it. Better athletics and more room for student organizations (eight years from now) are good ideas, but they won’t improve things for the average student in major ways. PSU isn’t perfect, but $50 million can go a long way. Let’s make the most of it.