Administrators won’t tell us about campus construction plans – The Oakland Post
For six weeks now, The Post has been trying to research and report stories about ongoing campus construction projects. At this point, not a single administrator has responded to our interview requests.
This is important because Oakland University is a public university. The money that is entrusted to the directors of the OU is public money, especially taxpayer money and student tuition fees. We continued this story because our readers have a right to know how the administration spends these funds.
There is no reasonable justification for withholding information relating to these projects. Despite a number of opportunities to be transparent with the campus community, the administrators chose to ignore our inquiries.
Now, the idea of ââcovering campus construction projects was pretty straightforward. Considerable progress has been made in the $ 21.5 million Wilson Hall renovation, while the $ 40 million South Foundation Hall (SFH) project appears to be delayed. Considering the recent 4.2% increase in tuition fees, the projects are of great interest to our readers, so it was obvious to get more information on how the projects develop.
The plan was to take what little information we had about the projects and corroborate it with interviews with the administrators who were running the projects. It all seemed simple, but the immediate feedback I received from sources on campus was that the projects were a touchy subject and we would have a hard time getting the administrators to talk about it. It sounded strange, but we kept chasing the stories. This is how it turned out.
Since mid-September, Post staff, mainly editor-in-chief Bridget Janis, have been exchanging emails with several administrators in an attempt to secure an interview. The administration rewarded our attempts to get the most accurate information possible about the projects by ignoring our emails, requiring questions to be submitted before interviews, requiring interviews to be conducted by email, and ultimately by canceling interviews.
The first administrator we spoke to was the now retired Vice President for Finance and Administration John Beaghan. In his correspondence with Janis, he repeatedly stated that his schedule was too tight for an interview and that we should email him questions and that he would respond when he had time.
It was not a start for us. Questions emailed to administrators usually lead to poor responses. We particularly doubted the request since it takes longer to type in responses to questions than to give verbal responses. If the problem was time related, it would actually be more expedient to phone Janis than to mess around with emails.
In her efforts to obtain quality maintenance, Janis went on to make more availability for Beaghan. Although he had options weeks in advance to schedule the interview, he insisted that his schedule was too tight and that we had to email him the questions.
During this correspondence, Janis also contacted the Associate Vice President of Facilities Management, Pat Engle. An interview appeared to be set with Engle for Friday, September 24, but before the details of the meeting were finalized, Engle stopped corresponding with Janis and the interview was never concluded.
About two weeks later, correspondence resumed with Engle, when she informed Janis that she would be going on vacation, which would delay the interview for a few more weeks. At this point, Janis also contacted Senior Project Manager Stuart Rose, but he never responded to his emails.
As Janis reached out to the directors, Director of Media Relations Brian Bierley realized that we were trying to find someone for an interview and reached out to Janis to offer Janis general information on the projects. Finally, Executive Secretary Shannon Stribling got involved in the procurement process as well.
With the help of Stribling, finally, an interview seemed to be secured with Engle and Rose for Janis. At this point, we were informed by Stribling that the condition for Rose to accept this interview was that The Post should provide the interview questions a full week in advance.
Providing questions a week before an interview was an extraordinary concession for us. It was not a decision we took lightly, but we complied in good faith, hoping that the administration would finally bring transparency to the projects. The interview between Janis, Rose and Engle appeared to be set, with Bierley and serving editorial advisor Garry Gilbert also scheduled to attend the meeting.
Janis compiled her questions and sent them in late afternoon on Thursday October 21. On the morning of Monday, October 25, Janis received an email from Stribling informing us that Engle and Rose would not be able to answer our questions, that it would take some time to get our questions answered and that all maintenance should be âpostponed indefinitelyâ.
Now this joke has been as tedious as it is ridiculous. It shouldn’t take months to find answers to basic questions about huge, multi-million dollar campus construction projects.
At this point we know that OU issued $ 98 million in tax-exempt bonds to fund renovations for Dodge Hall, SFH, Varner Hall, Wilson Hall, an off-campus research center, central heating infrastructure and other projects. As of June 30, 2021, $ 17.5 million of bond proceeds had been spent on these renovations.
Speech on the state of the university by President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz revealed that the ongoing renovation of Wilson Hall, which is expected to be completed by August 2022, cost $ 21.5 million. The refurbishment of the SFH, which has apparently been delayed, has a planned completion date of fall 2023 – costing the university $ 40 million. The $ 45 million renovation of Varner Hall has an expected occupancy date of fall 2023.
We know anecdotally that a significant portion of the Wilson Hall renovation is devoted to new luxury accommodation for President Pescovitz and her cabinet. The renovation is also supposed to include a new administrative space for students, similar to the North Foundation Hall.
We do not know what the square footage of President Pescovitz and her office and the space for student administrative services at Wilson Hall is. We also don’t know why the SFH renovation was delayed when the Wilson Hall project was able to go as planned.
Following this paragraph is the unedited list of questions that Janis sent to administrators a week before the interview that was scheduled and then canceled for Thursday, October 28. Since asking in private is not enough to make a quick response, I am now publicly asking for administration transparency regarding construction projects. There is no good reason why an administrator cannot come forward and provide answers to these questions for the campus community.
General project funding:
At the board audit committee meeting, John Beaghan mentioned that the OU has issued $ 98 million in tax-exempt bonds for construction projects. As of June 30, 2021, $ 17.5 million has been spent, so far approximately how much has been spent?
Of the remaining money, how is it distributed among the individual projects?
How did the SFH delay affect the order in which the construction of these projects took place? Why was the renovation of Wilson Hall able to continue, when SFH was not?
South Foundation room:
Let’s start with the renovation of the South Foundation Hall.
We understand that the renovation is stuck due to a delay in state funding. Can you explain what is going on?
For reasons of context, can you help us understand where the funding for the renovation of the SFH comes from?
Do you have a new date for the planned completion of the renovation?
We realize it’s difficult due to COVID to know exactly when the South Foundation classroom space will be needed. What are your projections for classroom space requirements for 2022, 2023 and so on?
Due to the delay – and given the increase in the number of online courses and the decrease in the number of face-to-face courses due to the pandemic – have you made any changes to the SFH renovation plan?
How will these changes benefit students?
While work inside SFH has stalled, Wilson Hall’s expansion is highly visible to the public.
Is the renovation going on schedule?
Can you help us understand where the funding for Wilson’s expansion is coming from?
We understand that part of the space will be used by President Ora Pescovitz and her cabinet. Can you give us a percentage? Square feet?
Will admissions have a home in the new space? At a time of declining enrollment – and we’ve known for years that Michigan’s high school graduate pool will shrink over the next five to ten years – why does the administration need more ‘space ?
At the state of the university’s address, the expected cost of the renovation was $ 21.5 million – the project looks well advanced, so are the finances on track and reflecting that number?
How will Wilson’s expansion benefit students?
Regarding the Varner Hall project, what is the progress of the renovations carried out so far?
When should students and faculty leave the building?
What can you tell us about the extent of the work in progress? Are these mainly mechanical and technological updates or are there also major structural renovations in the building?
How will these changes benefit students?
Off-campus research center:
What can you tell me about the progress of the construction of the off-campus research center?
When should it be finished?
How exactly will the new research center be used by the university?
Also at the state university address, the expected cost of the renovation was $ 18.2 million – the project seems well advanced, so are finances on track and reflecting that figure?
How will this benefit the students?
What can you tell me about the extent of the work that has been done at Dodge Hall?