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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Editorial: Still Waiting for Sasaki’s Say

In late April, representatives from Sasaki Associates, were the guest speakers at a faculty council meeting. They brought spiffy models and charts and preliminary results of their feasibility study for the construction of dorms, but no definitive answers. The dissatisfaction in the room was evident. Faculty had not been asked for their opinions on the planning of housing, as Professor Michael Stone pointed out, even though the university has experts in urban planning employed in the College of Public and Community Service. They even have at least one person on staff who worked on the original development plans for the university.

Despite the obvious unrest in both the university and the local community regarding the development of student housing, the plans are underway … almost, anyway.

First, there is the matter of the many broken promises lingering over the collective heads of the administration like dark, foreboding rain clouds.

In the 1970s, when the Harbor Campus was planned and built, the university promised the surrounding community that UMass Boston was to remain a commuter campus. After all, that was part of the original urban mission of the university, or so it seems. But now, almost 30 years later, the university has reneged on that pledge by actively exploring and planning “student housing” on the point.

Sasaki Associates, the consulting firm hired by the university to explore the feasibility of student housing on Columbia Point, based in Watertown and once described by Dean of Student Affairs Stephanie Janey as very expensive, was supposed to turn in their findings in early June. Now, more than a month past that deadline, everyone seems to be shrugging their shoulders in response to the question, where are the results? Not here, that’s for sure, and what’s more, no one seems to know when the results will arrive.

Another matter of concern is the Community Impact Study that the university intends to conduct and use in their planning. That study can only begin after the university has figured out what they actually want to perform in terms of construction and population increase as a result of the dorms. In other words, the Community Impact Study is on hold indefinitely, until the Sasaki results are received and analyzed, therefore putting the entire project on hold.

A rather optimistic start date for construction has been set for the fall of 2004. Is that enough time to collate the results from all these different sets of feasibility concerns? What about the possibility of hitting a “snag” on the community side of things such as what has occurred with the Calf Pasture Pump Station deal, which has drawn much protest from community representatives and government officials alike?

Another question we should ask ourselves is why the results have been delayed, as well as whether or not the university is paying for the extra time past the target date, which is still adding up. Is it simply because the consultants involved in this project were too ambitious at the outset, underestimating the amount of information they would collect and receive? Or do they perhaps find themselves struggling to collate it all into a cohesive list of recommendations for the university?

Perhaps one of the reasons for the delay has to do with an attempt to find an answer that the university will be happy with. Big bucks were shelled out to find a way for this project to move forward, not for someone to say, “You know what, that whole dorm idea isn’t really going to work out so well after all.” If Sasaki found that the feasibility is not there, the university administration would not be pleased. Picture this as a possible explanation for the long delay: well-dressed consultant types hovering around a table laid out with the quaint models of “Sasaki Associates’ bold master plan for the university”, throwing out euphemistic phrases such as “campus residential neighborhoods”, “proximity to core buildings on campus”, and “integrity of the university environment” to smooth the edges of a report that has to deal with all the obvious obstacles to this project, like parking and protected urban wild land, not to mention public safety issues and community impact.