U Campus a Construction Junction


Chris Ayers

(Photo by Chris Ayers)

(Photo by Chris Ayers)
(Photo by Chris Ayers)

The beeping tractors, missing parking lots and blocked sidewalks that accompany construction make access to campus more difficult for many, but this year’s construction spike is necessary to improve every student’s ability to navigate campus.
Navigating campus in a timely fashion poses real and challenging obstacles for students and visitors with disabilities. This year’s construction is the largest amount the U has seen since the early 1970s in terms of the creation of education and general buildings. The result is meant to make navigating the U’s massive amount of land easier for everyone.
“Anytime there is a large construction project, there is an amount of the funding that has to go to accommodations,” Shireen Ghorbani, a communications specialist in Facilities Management, said.
“I understand that it’s inconvenient,” Ghorbani said. “One of the things we have to acknowledge is that the majority of the spaces where education happens on this campus are spaces that had to be built at some point.”
Ghorbani said the departments involved in construction knew this year would be a difficult one for everyone, but the result will be an overall better campus experience for students, faculty and staff.
For some students at the U, the future benefits of this accessibility do not outweigh the current struggle getting to class.
Samantha Thomas, an undecided freshman, said due to construction in parking lots and on campus, she’s had to walk greater distances to class.
“Because I do have [arthritis] in my back, I’m unable to walk long distances easily,” Thomas said.
Thomas said she is glad the buildings and pathways at the U will be more accessible, but she still dislikes the campus.
“[The construction] is unbearable sometimes. It can be really overwhelming,” Thomas said.
Scott McAward, director for the Center for Disability Services, said accessibility issues are difficult to manage.
“What may be completely accessible for one person may be completely inaccessible for others,” McAward said.
McAward said his office works mainly in academic accommodations, but his office also coordinates with other facilities across campus like Commuter Services to make it easier for students to travel across campus.
“We’re really focused on integrated access,” he said.
Recent construction projects, like the ramp outside the Union and the one that leads to the Sorenson Arts and Education Building are being done to improve this access.
“If you were a student in a wheelchair in the front of the Union with an able-bodied peer, you would have to either go through the Union, go south of the Union, or north of OSH,” McAward said. “That’s not integrated and the newer projects are working to fix that.”
New buildings, such as the new law building, will also include this integrated accessibility.
For students with disabilities who need help navigating campus during or after this construction boom is finished, McAward said students can contact the Center for Disability Services and they will coordinate with Commuter Services in order to help students travel to their classes.
“Physical accessibility is always going to be an issue, partly because we’re built on a hill and we’re always going to be built on a hill,” McAward said.
David Moyes, associate director at Commuter Services, said his office has already begun to improve life on campus through fixing a few intersections deemed unsafe, but they’re open to suggestions on how to make navigating campus safer through things like creating better sidewalk connections or better lighting in the future.
Moyes said he also understands this year has been stressful for students and faculty, but things should improve for everyone when the new parking garages open next summer. Moyes said parking and transportation are always issues.
“Campus has only a finite amount of land and obviously our campus priority is to take care of students and parking is not always the most attractive thing,” Moyes said. “We actually spend a great deal of time working with accessibility issues. Any time that I work in a new parking lot one of the first things we address is improving the immediate access in and out of that lot or improving the pathways to it.”
Students can access a map on the Commuter Services website and flag areas they find problematic until Dec. 1. Moyes said this will help them plan future projects across campus.
“All of those comments will be compiled and then we will look at every single one of them,” Moyes said.
Other services, like the ADA Access Committee, looks at areas of campus that lack accessibility for those who might be travelling in a wheelchair.
“A lot of our work with accessibility aligns with other projects like the improvement of biking trails,” McAward said. “These newer integrated accessibility ramps are actually a lot wider than they need to be. They’re for people in wheelchairs to use, but they’re also for people on bikes and using strollers to use.”
McAward said the wider paths also allow for easier snow removal.
If students notice any areas on campus that need snow removal or building repair in relation to accessibility, they can contact the Center for Disability Studies.
Ghorbani said Facilities Management is also trying to be more efficient in getting information about construction to students through the use campus-wide emails and other social media platforms in order to help students and faculty find safer and more direct routes to their destinations.
Facilities Management offers an app for students to download called Mobile Routing. Students can use it to find the best routes around construction and to find new buildings and dining spots, but the app only works while students are on campus.
Ghorbani said funding for construction projects at the U comes from a number of different sources, but many projects get their starts from large donations from families and individuals who support building at the U and through partnerships with the state. Other projects, like the parking structures, are funded through revenue from Commuter Services from parking passes. Student fees are not typically associated with building funding.
“We’re trying to build [students] a beautiful, well-functioning campus with adequate parking and lots of nice amenities,” Ghorbani said, “and that requires some periods of inconvenience.”
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