In November 2008, the University was dangerously moving forward with building a Science and Engineering Complex projected to cost up to $350 million at a time when the nation was spiraling into a recession. In a column titled “Checking the State of the Pequod,” I warned GW to “keep a weather eye on the horizon” in regard to financing the University’s proposed plans. A year and three months later, GW is still pursuing that distant spot on the horizon, but any progress will be hindered if it does not disclose a determined cost of getting us to the imagined destination.
While the University has recently made significant steps in the process of developing this new science center – such as hiring an architectural firm in November of last year; designing three separate floor plans; and even constructing a projected model of the building’s shell – the key factor of cost is still missing. Without knowing how much money the new building will cost GW, the developers of the project risk losing the already tenuous support of various members of the Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate – not to mention the rest of the campus community.
Yes, the University should have worked to provide better resources to the science and engineering departments, resources that were significantly lacking compared to that of the international affairs and political science departments. Yes, the University should have been shifting its focus to research opportunities and would have benefited from a structure that would attract the top minds in the nation. Yes, the University should have been looking for more ways to strengthen its focus on researching sustainability efforts. These were laudable goals then, and they are now.
But the factors at play in the initial stage of the process still present problems – as the nation is not yet free of the harmful effects of the economic situation. Also, a recent Hatchet article reported that the University has reached less than a third of its annual fundraising goal. That GW is $90 million short of its 2010 goal seven months into the fiscal year and is still adamant about following through on the construction of the SEC is alarming.
What is more alarming is that even now that the Board of Trustees is set to review the project in eight months, the developers of the project claim that they do not know what the SEC will cost. If the plan is so far along that designs are being presented to the Faculty Senate at a meeting last Friday, then proponents of the plan must provide more specific numbers. This type of presentation resembles a company revealing the highly anticipated plans for a new product, without disclosing its price.
It is possible the University does have a number but is hesitant to disclose it at this time. If this is the case, one might infer the cost will be even higher than originally projected. Hopefully this is not the situation, but the administration needs to realize that any progress made so far on the planning of the SEC is jeopardized by a disconnect or a lack of communication between the proponents and potential backers of the plan.
Regardless of the specific reasons, just as one would not set out for a destination on the horizon without knowing what it would take to get there, GW should not pursue building the Science and Engineering Complex without a more specific cost. To do so would be as foolish as that ill-fated captain of the Pequod.
The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is the Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.
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