Editor’s note: This weekly question-and-answer column with George Mason administrators appears every Thursday in the Daily Gazette.
By Jeremy Lasich
Can you give me a brief overview of the Facilities Office and everything you oversee?
Under the Facilities umbrella there are four areas: Space Administration, Facilities Planning, Facilities Construction, and the Physical Plant. Space Administration has authority over all space matters at the university, Facilities Planning is responsible for the design of our facilities, and Facilities Construction is responsible for building our facilities. The Physical Plant is in charge of maintenance and operations.
Obviously, construction is a hot topic at the university. What projects do we have under way right now?
We just finished two buildings recently. Innovation Hall, which was completed on June 1, is our newest academic building. Liberty Square, which was occupied this semester, includes 500 beds of apartment-style student housing and a 500-car parking lot. We break ground in November on a new 1,200-car parking deck that will be located on part of Parking Lot B. The next building to break ground after that will be in the spring when we start on the new research building. Also next spring, we will complete the academic building currently under construction on the Prince William Campus. And another 500 beds of new apartment-style student housing on the Fairfax Campus will be finished this coming August.
What is the significance of the new parking deck?
It will probably be the last parking structure we build within Patriot Circle. The new master plan that was approved in 2002 foresees a greater density of buildings at George Mason. On the Fairfax Campus, we will have to rely more on parking structures to save the real estate to build new buildings. We will be constructing several new buildings on Parking Lot B, where there are currently 750 parking spaces. We will replace that parking and add more with the new 1,200-car deck. When we jump outside Patriot Circle and start building parking garages on larger parking lots, those garages will accommodate between 1,600 and 2,000 cars each.
This new parking deck will be accessed from two different entrances off Patriot Circle. Also, the circle will become three lanes between those two entrances.
Can you talk a little bit about the South Sector Plan and how the university is going to change over the next five years?
Starting this past June 1 we will be opening five new buildings in a year-and-a-half. In order, they are Innovation Hall, Liberty Square, Prince William IIIA, the next phase of student housing to be completed in August 2004, and the parking deck, which is scheduled to be completed in December 2004. If you want to go out another six months, then the research building gets finished and we will have completed six new buildings in two years, which is a lot for us.
In the south sector, we are developing two new student housing projects and an addition to the Aquatic and Fitness Center. Although visible, these projects are outside of Patriot Circle and have not disrupted campus too much. Next month, when we begin developing new buildings inside the circle, disruption of the campus will become more evident. The parking structure is a large building and will have a footprint bigger than the Johnson Center. Six months into that construction project, we break ground on the new research building. These two buildings will be built side-by-side and will impact a large area of the campus. We can’t start on the Academic V project, which is for the College of Visual and Performing Arts, until we finish the parking deck because we can’t absorb the loss of all of Parking Lot B at one time.
On the north side of campus, we also have the Thompson Hall renovation. We are trying to determine now where to displace the people in the building and also the computer center. We are going to redo all of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lights, ceilings, windows, etc. It will be a very comprehensive renovation.
What is included in the Aquatic and Fitness Center addition?
The Aquatic and Fitness Center was developed mostly as a swimming facility that included a modest-sized fitness area, but that was not a large component of the complex. The building is only three-and-a-half years old, but the fitness area has been wildly popular from the start. Now with all of the new and existing student housing close by (2,000 beds between President’s Park and Liberty Square) it makes sense to expand this building. We are tripling the amount of fitness area in a new addition on the north side of the building. We are also adding two new locker rooms. We are building an additional locker room for the swimming and diving team, and adding another new locker room on the south side of the building that will be used by visiting swim teams. In the future, an outdoor pool will be added, although it is not part of this project.
George Mason will be getting its first research building. Can you talk about what it entails?
The state pays for 50 percent of research buildings. We have to pay for the rest of it, but we’ve never had enough revenue from our research projects to buy new research buildings. We have been doing research in other existing space, but the research space situation has become extreme and we can’t grow our research program at the desired pace without some head room.
The largest single administrative tenant of the building will be the Office of Sponsored Programs, and the largest academic unit will be the School of Computational Sciences, which will occupy a whole floor. The rest of the floors are a blend of other research projects. The building has a very flexible floor plan so when a grant is finished, space can be reconfigured for new work. On the roof we are providing an observatory that we have been trying to get built for about 20 years. It will include a dome-sheltered telescope and several other smaller telescopes that will be permanently mounted up there. The observatory platform is designed to accommodate as many as 40 students on the roof at one time.
Why is the university increasing the amount of housing at such a rapid rate?
After years of having vacant beds, we are now facing hundreds of students on the housing waiting list. We probably waited a little too long before we started the next phase of student housing. In addition to the pent-up demand, the president wants every first-time freshman to have on-campus housing, and we couldn’t do that previously. The provost also wants to accept more transfer students, most of which want to live on campus. We are supposed to grow from 3,000 beds before Liberty Square was built to 5,000 beds by 2007. One thousand beds of student housing are either recently completed or under construction. The next 1,000 beds of student housing is envisioned to be built in the area of the Commonwealth and Dominion dormitories and will possibly incorporate a new student union.
You’ve talked in the past about opening up the entrances to George Mason. Why?
When we updated the master plan, we were told that we have done such a good job with our tree buffering that we are the best-kept secret in Northern Virginia. At the Braddock and Roberts Road intersection, we are opening the campus to provide a view of our new student housing. We have been encouraged to open up our entrances more and provide selected views into the campus.
What are the plans for the Arlington and Prince William Campuses?
The Prince William building under construction now is an intriguing building design-wise and will be finished in late spring 2004. It is about one-third faculty offices and two-thirds classrooms and labs, with chemistry and biology the main focuses there. About 5,000 feet of space on the ground floor will be a telecommuting center where the public can come in and work. The Prince William Campus changed the most of any of the three campuses when the master plan was updated. We almost doubled the amount of academic space at Prince William.
The next building in Arlington to be constructed is gigantic. It’s a $50 million project, and at 250,000 square feet it is the largest academic building we will probably ever build. For example, both wings of Robinson Hall total 200,000 square feet. The new building will also include a three-level underground parking garage.
How big of a role does the state play in funding these buildings?
The state pays for 100 percent of the cost of libraries and academic buildings, such as Innovation Hall and Academic V. They also pay for 50 percent of research buildings. All other facilities are paid for by separate and internal revenue streams. When we build a parking structure, the fees we pay for parking cover that expense; when we build a dormitory, the housing fees pay for that expense; and some new facilities are student-fee funded.
We participate in bond sales at the state level and those bonds are paid off over a length of time, typically 20 years. When the economy goes south and revenues slow down, the commonwealth typically puts a General Obligation Bond on the ballot like they did last November. That provided George Mason with about $80 million worth of general fund money for academic buildings. With the Non General Fund buildings that were approved, we got authorization at the same time for some $300 million worth of new buildings.