GW lacks concrete costs for MCI Center alternative

The committee appointed by GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to explore options for this spring’s Commencement ceremony will not release its recommendations until it examines the costs of holding the event at the newly-completed MCI Center.

At a Student Association town hall meeting last week, committee members said they still do not have concrete figures for holding the event at the downtown arena.

But the Commencement committee created a fifth subcommittee at its meeting Friday to investigate the costs and benefits of an MCI Center ceremony. SA President Kuyomars “Q” Golparvar and Director of University Special Events Lynn Shipway are among the members of the new subcommittee.

Golparvar said the subcommittee will present its findings to the larger committee in January. The committee will make final recommendations to Trachtenberg by Jan. 31.

Golparvar said “it was brought up in passing” at a Commencement committee meeting that University Trustee Abe Pollin, who helped finance the building of the MCI Center, might rent the arena to the University at cost. He said he had not heard further discussion of that possibility.

In a letter to a parent that was distributed at the committee meeting, Trachtenberg explained that the cost of the outdoor ceremony alone has been between $250,000 and $300,000 in recent years. The cost of a backup plan and additional expenses ups the cost even more.

“Last time I checked our (total) costs for Commencement approached half a million dollars . It’s probably twice what our colleague institutions are paying,” Trachtenberg wrote.

But the subcommittee has budgeted $372,000 for this year’s Commencement expenses, a $210,000 drop from last year’s expenditures.

The cost of holding the ceremony on the Ellipse last year, plus the cost of Commencement weekend activities like the Monumental Celebration, totaled $582,615, according to the subcommittee report.

Trachtenberg did not provide a concrete figure for an MCI Center ceremony, but he wrote that an indoor ceremony would cost only half the amount of an outdoor ceremony.

“We don’t have to worry about weather or crowd control. It is an easier arrangement all around and we can very likely save $250,000, which . over four years comes to a million dollars, which can be used to provide library books and computers and scholarships and all sorts of good things,” Trachtenberg wrote.

“Maybe (Trachtenberg) knows something the committee does not know,” Golparvar said.

Last year, the University prepared a backup plan that would have moved graduates to the Smith Center and their guests to various campus locations to watch the ceremony via live cable feed.

The proposed backup plan cost almost $20,000 last year, even though the plan was never carried out, according to a report by the budget subcommittee at Friday’s meeting.

That figure did not include the funds it would take to implement the plan, according to GW Law School Associate Dean John Jenkins, chair of the Commencement committee.

The budget subcommittee provided a further breakdown of Commencement costs at Friday’s meeting.

Setting up the stage, seating and sound system for the 1997 ceremony on the Ellipse cost more than $128,000.

National Park Service support, including contracting the National Park Police, and banners for the ceremony cost more than $13,000 last year. Novelties, food, water, transportation and music cost $43,000.

The cost to the University was a little more than $401,000 after the $50 Commencement fee, charged to each graduating student, was subtracted from the cost.

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