What makes a campus really great? Dr. James Gaertner knows the answer. Just look at our campus. During his tenure as President of Sam Houston State University, our Board of Regents (his bosses) approved almost $160 million of new construction. And there are more expenditures on the way. A president’s job gets more difficult with time. Fortunately, our accountant turned university president has a lot of experience and insight into Sam Houston State University, the Texas State University System and other bureaucratic players. So far, he has enjoyed some latitude in shaping the “look” of SHSU to our benefit.
First, he broke the mold that SHSU should not be in the campus housing business. For years, the argument was that it was unfair for SHSU to compete with local businesses by operating housing. The reality is that except for a few local investors including some university personnel, most of the housing was developed by non-local, professional real estate developers who flipped the properties to out-of-state owners. Many parents want their children to have some of the benefits of a residence college experience. Private apartments don’t offer “student life” programming and student managers. Look at the result – the new residence have waiting lists!
Second, he spent $2 million on signage. Prior attempts were half-hearted and designs were inconsistent. Our new upscale signage tells visitors that we are a classy outfit. Our president broke the “master plan” and insisted on building a parking garage to offer parking in the “interior” of the campus. The “master plan” was designed by architects who have no idea what it is like to carry a back pack in the rain over a mile to get to class. The HKC addition was completed though we did miss an opportunity to build an Olympic swimming pool with the City of Huntsville (which would have given us new aquatic athletic programs). But, the contracts and plans were already signed so Gaertner didn’t have much input. The disgraceful slum that was married student housing was replaced by Raven Village.
Unfortunately, we may be back to the “master plan” which would be very unfortunate. Unless we voice some concern, it looks like we may be ending all other interior parking with the construction of a new 140,000-plus square foot academic building next to the new wing of the College of Business Administration. Friels and Wilson will be torn down and replaced with concrete and landscaping.
Before the concrete is poured on either, I would like to propose a different plan: Let’s spend the same amount for concrete and landscape on building an ATRIUM MALL attached to the front of the Lowman Student Center. The new atrium would be ideal for a “food court” (University of Texas Austin has this for their student center). And, it could be an all weather place for student organization fairs, etc. The LSC renovation did not add a single square foot to a building that was designed for a campus of less than 8,000 students (we now have approximately 15,000 students).
Instead of a useless and expensive garden in the middle of the campus, let’s build a circular driveway in-between Lee Drain and the new Atrium to allow people to drive into the middle of the campus to deliver students and goods. Instead of an oversized building next to College of Business, let’s leave some space for a future addition to the business building. Then, to promote interior, convenient access without destroying open space, let’s consider a second parking garage to replace the residence halls that are scheduled to be torn down or build a parking garage under the new classroom building, or under the future addition to the College of Business Administration (Smith-Hutson) building. On the perimeter of campus, let’s add one graduate, family-style residence hall to support our doctoral and masters students who want a quiet but family oriented housing with “student and family” programs. Let’s not fall backwards into an outdated “master plan” that puts all parking far from the campus.