Mason campuses experience growing pains with new construction

The new Health and Human Services building will be built next to University Hall (photo file).
The new Health and Human Services building will be built next to University Hall (photo file).

Faculty and staff hoping to move into the new Health and Human Services building next semester will have to wait a little longer.

While the building was one of Mason’s top priorities, the project has been put on hold for a year. The building, expected to house the Health and Human Services department, did not secure the necessary funding to complete the project.

“In the old days, almost 100 percent of funding (for construction) came from the state. Some (finances) still do. Engineering, for example, was a $60 million project,” said Vice President of Facilities Tom Calhoun.

That number included infrastructure costs for the building and $10 million that came through private donations. However, receiving funding from the state means that any academic building on campus must be approved by the state government.

This year, the Health and Human Services building, officially titled Academic Building 7, was the university’s highest priority. However, by the time designs had been finished and total cost had been estimated, the October/November deadline for the funding application had passed. Since Academic Building 7 did not make the time frame, facilities is hoping to get it into next year’s budget.

While the construction is not set to begin for another year, the designs for the building are completed. The building will house the various health administration offices, which were previously spread throughout the Fairfax campus, in one structure while also including general education classrooms.

“We want to make sure students don’t get stuck in one little area,” Calhoun said.

The building will replace Lot H between University Hall and the Rogers/Whitetop Housing Complex.

Presently, the state government gives authority to universities to start work on several projects across the state before funding is issued. This allows schools to begin design and preliminary preparations without starting work on the site. At this point, the state will either give a go-ahead for construction to begin or place the project on hold.

“Eventually they’ll fund them all,” Calhoun said. “But they dole cash out as they have it.”

The Bull Run Hall on the Prince William Campus has also been delayed because of a lack of funding. Meanwhile, other projects on campus remain on track. Shenandoah Housing, expected to add 165 freshmen dorms near President’s Park, and the replacement to the Eisenhower Dining facility are both scheduled to open for the fall semester of 2014.

The future construction of Academic Building 7 and Shenandoah Housing pose a challenge to the Fairfax campus’ already overstretched parking locations. Josh Cantor, director of parking and transportation, said the “plans regarding new parking options on campus are to be determined.”

Cantor said that the Rappahannock Parking deck was originally built to compensate for the loss of the faculty and staff parking in Lot H, where Academic Building 7 is expected to be constructed.

“The most basic decision is 'are we willing to take debt and raise fees to build a new deck or make do with the parking we presently have?'”  Cantor said.

Cantor explained that if Mason choses to build a new parking deck, potentially on Lot J or Lot C, permit prices could go up another $ 50 to $100, especially if Lot I also becomes a residence hall for 400 students.

“If we lose both (Lots I and H), our hand is forced,” Cantor said. “Especially with that being faculty and staff, which we may have to re-designate inside Rappahannock. It’s about always trying to find a balance. No choice we make is going to make all groups happy.”

Cantor discussed the possibility of adding more frequent routes to the Mason Circulator bus services. This would allow students in remote general lots quicker access to campus and hopefully reduce the commute time.

Meanwhile, the new Shenandoah Housing will replace a third of lot R, with at least half of the lot being closed until construction is completed. Details for the project are expected to emerge next week, though Cantor said “people parking there have known since the fall. We’ll find out how many spaces are available. We’ll have and sell passes accordingly next fall.”

Preliminary construction on Shenandoah begins in early March. Eisenhower is scheduled to begin construction in May after the semester ends. 

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