University fails to aid an ailing Gelman Library

University officials have said for years that rehabilitating an aging Gelman Library is a top priority, but multiple administrators still won’t get specific on how the University plans to secure the necessary funding for repairs, or even say how much money has been raised to embark on renovations for the building.

Students and library administrators alike continue to complain that the library is ill-equipped to handle the traffic the building receives on a daily basis, but three years after plans to renovate the first floor of the building were drawn up, University administrators say they are still only in the early stages of securing money for the project. When the renovation plan was laid out, it was slated to cost $5 million, but University spokeswoman Emily Cain said the price estimate has changed, although she declined to say what the new estimate is.

She also refused to say how much money has been raised for the project but said that “no concrete plans on when to begin the project, a budget, or a time frame” have been agreed upon.

GW’s tight lips over the fundraising for the renovations is a stark contrast to its other fundraising initiatives, like the Power & Promise Fund and Innovation Task Force, which the University often gives updates on and promotes in marketing literature. It also conflicts with the University’s borrowing history, in which the University has borrowed money to build residence halls and academic buildings on campus, as well as with its plans to build a $275 million Science and Engineering Complex, a project the Board of Trustees recently approved.

University President Steven Knapp said Wednesday that GW prefers to incur debt for projects when there is a concrete way for GW to repay the loan through revenue generated by the project.

“In the case of the library, we don’t have a fee structure that provides income over time, so we need to find a way to pay for renovations up front rather than borrow money we plan to pay back later,” Knapp said. “Nevertheless, we are working hard on a funding plan for renovating Gelman, and it is a very high priority for me, for the Provost and for the University.”

Knapp did not expand on what those plans entailed.

University Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Steven Lerman said the University is “actively seeking funding” for the renovation, but refused to say where the University expects to get the cash.

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz, who manages all of the GW’s finances, would not comment on how much money Gelman needs for renovations and said all questions about the building should be directed to Lerman.

University Librarian Jack Siggins told The Hatchet at the beginning of last year that only $150,000 of the $5 million needed had been raised, describing the fundraising as “at a standstill.” For this story, Siggins directed all information for this story to the Office of Media Relations.

Patricia Danver, the assistant vice president for development communications, said Gelman’s main form of fundraising still comes from the $50 voluntary fee that is automatically placed on students’ accounts prior to the start of the academic year, and University spokeswoman Emily Cain called giving the voluntary library gift the “single most important thing students can do” to have an impact on the library. But that doesn’t match past statements from library officials, who have said that the money from the gift – which totaled $820,000 in fiscal year 2010 – goes toward operating costs for the library, and does not provide enough funding to aid the building’s major rehabilitation efforts.

Part of the library’s lack of renovation funding stems from the fact that GW itself isn’t allocating any of its budget to the repairs. In fiscal year 2010 – which ran from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010 – the University allocated $500,000 to Gelman and Academic Technologies, and $210,000 for a first-floor data upgrade for the building’s Internet. However, in the fiscal year 2011 capital and operating budgets, Gelman does not appear in the University’s operating budget by name.

Last year, the Innovation Task Force proposed spending $1.5 million to the first floor of Gelman Library. A Gelman renovation was the only idea the task force, which is designed to identify opportunities for fundraising and efficient spending, suggested to spend money on.

Last year, students took fundraising for the library into their own hands, giving the library $31,000 from the 2010 Senior Class Gift, and another student-led effort called Get Gelman Going began to aggregate the feelings and opinions that students, faculty and staff had about the building.

Ryan Last, the director of Get Gelman Going, said his organization is still operating, adding that he’s received hundreds of e-mails and complaints from students who say they are frustrated with the University’s response to their concerns about the library.

“We see a large increase in students getting frustrated since they cannot believe how the Smith Center can be renovated, then the engineering building, then Mount Vernon… and the Virginia Campus, which all of these are listed in the 2010-2011 budget as top priority for the University,” Last said. “People are frustrated with the fact that there is no study space, the printers are slow, the infrastructure is outdated, the carpet is gross, the rooms are outdated, the computers are broken, the lighting sucks, the outside is unbearable, the AC does not work, there is not enough plugs, the needed technology in the classrooms are not there, and much more.”

The Student Association has also highlighted Gelman’s inadequacies, and SA President Jason Lifton said the organization is working on a campus-wide initiative that focuses on the logistics involved in raising funds.

“Instead of giving money directly to Gelman, we are working with the Gelman staff to help support them in any way possible,” Lifton said. “We have offered to do everything, from meeting with donors to lobbying the Board of Trustees.”

Lifton said he believes a leading university should provide students with a library that includes modern study necessities, but that GW has been averse to accepting this reality.

“The SA is obviously a group of students, and we, like everyone else, see the large gaps in the services that Gelman is able to provide,” Lifton said. “I think it’s important for the new plans for the library to take into account the modern-day needs of a university library.”

-Amy Rhodin, Madeleine Morgenstern and Lauren French contributed to this report.

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