Construction on Campus: Beautifully Frustrating

By Maddie McCarthy

On Thursday, Aug. 5, University of Tampa President Ronald Vaughn announced through a global message that the school is constructing a bell tower in front of the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values. The announcement included a video that displayed a scaled figure modeling what the tower will look like once completed. 

The bell tower, called an Ars SonoraⓇ, is part of the second phase of construction for the Sykes Chapel. According to the UT website, the bell tower “has been in development for more than two decades and is part of UT’s master plan.” The project is being funded by Susan and John Sykes.

In the video announcement, President Vaughn said it will be “the world’s most advanced bell tower.” As a student who will be here in time to see it erected, I am excited to have a beautiful and technologically advanced instrument that doubles as a piece of art on my campus. 

Unfortunately, the beautiful bell tower feels out of touch with students due to the more pressing issues that many are currently facing. The housing crisis that has left many incoming freshmen scrambling to find a place to live comes to mind. 

It makes me question whether the UT administration is more concerned about their style than their students.

The bell tower isn’t the only new construction that has happened. The Ferman Center for the Arts was just completed for students to use starting Spring 2021. It is a beautiful facility with study areas, classrooms and dance studios.

Additionally, the school is expanding the Benson Alex Riseman Fitness and Recreation Center. Once completed, the fitness center will feature a new lap pool, hot tub, lounge pool, new sport courts, study spaces, classrooms, and more, according to the UT web page outlining the construction.

Also under construction is a new technology building next to the Graduate and Health Sciences (GHS) building. The two will be joined together by a sky-bridge that has more classrooms.

The original GHS building was opened in 2018. UT’s building information webpage states that the building is there to “support academic needs in [the university’s] expanding health sciences and graduate programs.”

The school recognises its growing student population. The GHS building is proof of that, and on their website, UT boasts about enrollment records being broken year after year.

For example, in October 2015, the university posted on their news page that for the 19th year in a row, enrollment at UT was up at 8,037 undergraduate and graduate students. President Vaughn even commented in the post that the school “completed new facilities to support and continue improving the total educational experience.”

In 2020, 9,605 total students were enrolled, according to UT’s facts and figures for the 2020-2021 school year. In five years, the school population grew by over 1,500 students. The completed facilities, however, are no longer able to keep up.

As a student who has spent two years at UT, it is frustrating to see construction of a bell tower, fitness center, academic building, and arts center pop up so quickly when there is not even enough room on campus for students to live.

The last on-campus residence hall to be built at UT was Palm Apartments in 2015, and since then, the student population has grown significantly. A new apartment complex called The Henry is opening for the Fall 2021 semester, which is an off-campus student housing facility for UT.

The Henry, however, is almost entirely full. The website currently lists that limited spots are available. The price for one room in a four bedroom apartment is $1229 per month, and when the “apply now” button is selected, the lease term is listed as “annual.” 

This means that housing at The Henry for one school year is over $14,000. Compared to UT, where the housing costs can range from $4,218 to $10,620 per academic year, this is not a viable option for most. 

The UT housing crisis made local news, and according to an article by the Tampa Bay Times, parents of incoming freshmen “faulted university officials for not telling them about the situation earlier, when they could have made other plans.”

The whole situation is most frustrating for the students affected. However, as a student who already has an apartment off-campus, I can’t help but feel embarrassed that UT appears to care more about how cool their campus looks and how fast the enrollment is growing than students that attend.

Even parking is an issue at UT. A former article in The Minaret revealed that although 3,492 parking spaces were available on campus, 4,443 parking passes were sold to students and staff. At the time, the passes exceeded the number of available spaces by 951.

In August 2021, the university did announce the opening of the new Delaware Avenue Parking Garage. It adds 437 new parking spaces.

However, with the housing crisis that has led plenty of freshmen to find places to live off-campus, it doesn’t look like the new parking garage will alleviate the long wait times that commuter students face on any given day. 

Ultimately, UT has not adequately kept up with their growing student body. It is understandable that UT will continue with the plans that have been laid out for years, especially thanks to generous donors, the school must adapt these plans if they allow enrollment to grow so rapidly. 

While the new buildings and art projects are beautiful, it is easy to overlook them when students feel like crucial needs are overlooked in favor of extraneous desires. 

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