Gelman project allocated $16 million

The University’s highest governing body pledged to spend $16 million to upgrade Gelman Library over the next three years, the administration’s most tangible promise to-date to fix the aging building.

After nearly a year of persistent protest from the Student Association, groups like Get Gelman Going along with the donation of $31,000 of last year’s Senior Class Gift to the library project, officials included the necessary funding in the budget for the 2012 fiscal year. The Board of Trustees approved the budget May 13.

Provost Steven Lerman said the goal is that eventually about half of the $16 million will be covered by fundraising, but President Steven Knapp said he considers it an investment, whether or not the University fundraises the desired amount.

“We’d like to fundraise all of it if we possibly can,” Knapp said, “but what we’re doing is saying we’re going to make our investment ahead of time. Whether or not we get the fundraising done, we’re going to do the project.”

Specific design plans have still not been decided, Lerman said, adding, the “hope is that we could begin construction a year from today.”

Once the design selection and engineering plans are complete, and the University secures permits from the District, lack of funding will no longer hold back the project. Lerman said only $1 million of the budget is expected to be expended over the next year.

In November Lerman told The Hatchet there was no concrete plan or cost estimate for the project. GW hired Cox Graae + Spack Architects in late December, and in January, University spokeswoman Emily Cain reported that the firm was still in the process of developing a conceptual design plan for the first floor.

Knapp also reported being “in talks” with several potential large-scale donors for the project in November, but multiple officials declined to release any details about the philanthropists, or how much money was in question. Following the Board of Trustees meeting May 13, Knapp said the University still has “prospects.”

“Everything we’re doing is bringing in external resources,” Knapp said. “We’re always in talks with potential donors.”

In 2009, the University allocated $500,000 to Gelman and Academic Technologies, as well as $210,000 for a first-floor data upgrade for the building’s Internet, whereas the budget for 2010 did not include Gelman by name. The University has consistently refused to release the library’s budget. When asked May 13, University spokeswoman Candace Smith said the only “publicly available” budget material is listed on GW’s website.

Knapp said University administrators considered Gelman an issue before this year, but the ball really got rolling when former Student Association Executive Vice President Jason Lifton and former SA President Julie Bindleglass brought the adamant student concern to the Board’s attention last year.

“I think it did give us a renewed impetus to create a committee that had students on it to start looking for resources, and to even advance the fundraising,” Knapp said.

He added that a lot of what the University does is influenced by student input and he has given the Student Association “a lot of credit” for their work in areas including the library.

Former Student Association President Jason Lifton declared the Gelman renovation project one of his top priorities during his presidency and said he sees the successful funding of the first floor project as only a first step in addressing Gelman’s needs.

“We need to continue with the renovation plans – the University recognizes that this is only a first step,” Lifton said.

Lifton added that, although previous projections have included a $5 million budget, “there is no reason to spend a little bit of money to do a project wrong.”

In 2006, administrators developed the $5 million plan for renovations in response to student complaints of overcrowding, limited electrical outlets and a generally outdated appearance. These plans were never carried out due to the lack of funding. More than 480 outlets were added to the fourth and fifth floors before the 2009 fall semester.

Ideas that have been released for the upcoming Gelman renovations include technological upgrades, adding additional study space and potentially additional entrances from Starbucks or Kogan Plaza.

Lifton said a main goal of the Gelman renovations is to “build community,” something he hopes would be in part achieved by moving the entrance to Kogan Plaza.

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