For this first Campus Conversation of the school year, President Rob Manuel discussed space planning in the form of parking, classrooms, sporting fields and new buildings on university grounds with faculty and staff on Wednesday, Sept. 23, in UIndy Hall A. Manuel explained that everything discussed was simply ideas, with nothing set in stone.
Manuel initiated these “conversations” himself as a way to bring together voices and ideas from all parts of the university, to help with issues of the university itself.
“As a person who leads a pretty complex institution, [I find] it’s tough to make decisions without knowledge of the people who are affected by those decisions,” Manuel said. “So I was looking around saying, ‘How do we make decisions about retention that impact whether students stay? How do we make decisions about parking? How do we make decisions about usage of space?’”
Manuel also has Pizza with the Prez once a month in the residence halls to engage students and get their thoughts and ideas about different topics concerning campus development. He also talks with students in groups once a week to see what is going on around campus and what they are doing.
“In that room were faculty and staff, and then in separate conversations it will be students, and then in separate conversations it will be the board,” Manuel said. “My job is to usher the work of all of them around, prioritize them and then create a list of things we go after.”
An important topic of this first Campus Conversation was parking. Manuel said that the parking situation was a concern from the first week of school, because many people were struggling to find parking spots in time for class. This was not unexpected, as the same issue arose last term, but settled down after a few weeks. An impromptu solution was initiated in the form of grass parking at the corners of the university beginning in the third week of school. Parking during the first week was not as strict, but once that first week was over, the campus police cracked down on inappropriate parking, Manuel said.
According to Manuel, the university claimed a total of 2,736 parking spaces last year, but this year, only 2,680 spaces because building the Health Pavilion took over a parking lot. Once the campus apartments are finished, 300 more spots will become available.
Students were not the only ones struggling to find an available spot. A few faculty and staff members expressed concern about the situation. Many spoke of having to park in lots far away from their buildings or of students parking in reserved lots.
The discussion generated a number of options to alleviate the problem, one of which was building a vertical parking garage, Manuel said. Building a vertical parking garage would come with a hefty price tag, however. According to Manuel, such a facility would cost approximately $1,000 a term per student to ensure a parking spot available to him or her because it would cost about $18,000 to $20,000 a space to construct such a building. Manuel said either tuition would go up, or students would have to pay for parking, because it would cost $20 million for the parking garage.
Building a horizontal parking lot also would be a costly option, roughly $1,000 to $1,200 a spot. Financially, Manuel said, it would be a better option to pave the grassy spots for parking.
“The problem is they’re not right close to the building people want to be at, and so we’d have to walk to the location,” Manuel said. “Eighty percent of the complaints I’m getting is not that they can’t find a parking space, it’s that they can’t find a parking space next to the building that they need to go into at the time they need to go in to it. And we’re going to need to adjust that pretty quickly, or it’s just going to seem like this perennial problem that we go through at the beginning of every term.”
Another possible solution to the parking problem would be instituting policies to restrict cars on campus. The University of Indianapolis is one of the few schools in the state of Indiana to allow freshmen to have cars on campus and not charge for that. Not allowing freshmen to park on campus, would alleviate the parking problem, but cause a recruitment problem, Manuel said, and the university would have to balance out the problem. The idea of restricting freshmen having cars on campus will not soon go away because it could be the better solution over charging for parking, according to Manuel.
“Printing is free, washing and drying clothes is free, parking is free,” Manuel said. “There’s a lot of terrific things that exist here that have since the history of the university, but when you were 12, 15, 18, 20 thousand people, is it a sustainable thing? When you’re 5,500 [people] it’s a difficult thing to manage when free is the option. I don’t think that we would try to make money off the backs of the parking stickers that we need to sell, but we would try to find a way to make enough dollars to fund the paving of new spaces until we get to the point of being comfortable with the amount of spaces that exist.”
Associate Vice President for Enrollment Ronald Wilks believes that students would be more upset about not being able to have a vehicle on campus than they would be about paying for parking.
“As long as it is reasonable, I can’t see them being upset,” Wilks said.
While the parking situation dominated most of the conversation, Manuel also spoke about space availability for classrooms and the new buildings that have been and will be built for students.
The Health Pavilion is open for business, boasting a Perk II and healthy sandwiches, soups, sushi, and other options. The Krannert Memorial Library also is open for business with just a few finishing touches yet to be completed. The library will have a Perk III and another Sub Hub scheduled to open in mid-October.
The campus apartments are expected to be ready by July 31, 2016, for juniors, seniors and graduate students and will make 300 more parking spots available.
Also, as a part of the university’s five-year, $50 million development plan, the school is hoping to upgrade and expand science labs and add men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. That is a result of this process, according to Manuel.
“In terms of what’s next, a university is organic. … It can only take so much, and so we just want to hold back a couple months and rest and get ready for the next push,” Manuel said. “That’s what this is about. The next set of conversations is about how did the classrooms change and how did the learning spaces change. That’s all faculty and students. They have to tell us what they want and how to use it.”