Construction fuels campus frustrations


In Minnesota, summer is construction season, and the University of Minnesota is no exception. But the abundance of projects on campus this year has caused more problems than usual. 

On top of the University’s own projects – such as the Weisman Art Museum expansion, the Folwell Hall renovation and the demolition of the Music Education Building – Central Corridor light-rail crews are also making way for future tracks.

This summer, workers are expanding and rebuilding roads around campus to ensure they can handle the traffic when Washington Avenue from Walnut Street to Pleasant Street is converted into a transit- and pedestrian-only area.

Construction on the actual light-rail tracks and the Washington Avenue closure likely won’t begin until the spring of 2011, Central Corridor spokeswoman Laura Baenen said.

The Metropolitan Council plans to award the contract for the light-rail construction around the University by the end of this summer, she said, and it will set a final timeline for construction then.

As of right now, though, the bulk of the work is expected to end before fall semester begins, with the exception of work on the Washington Avenue Bridge.

Both light-rail and University construction have led to many road closures and detours around campus.

The portions of Pleasant and Delaware streets that loop around the Weisman are closed for the summer, and other roads and paths, such as Harvard Street and Scholars Walk near the recreation center, have detours and some lane closures.

The pedestrian bridge between East River Road and University Avenue will also be closed through the end of July during the demolition of the Music Education Building.

The frustration mounts

The University and light-rail projects taking place simultaneously have been frustrating for students and staff still on campus during the summer, Sandra Cullen, assistant director for transportation systems design at the University, said.

“All the scheduling gets difficult,” she said. “We have to decide and plan which roads to close when, and whose project is closing what road and make sure people can still get through campus.”

When construction began earlier this summer, many students and staff ignored signs and barriers and crossed into construction zones, Cullen said.

A detour was created around portions of Scholars Walk that were closed for the construction near the recreation center, but Cullen said many students and staff cut through the site anyway.

“On a college campus, people always want to take those shortcuts, but it really is a safety hazard,” she said.

In addition to being dangerous, entering a construction site without permission can be considered trespassing, Cullen said.

Construction crews have also had to raze trees and landscaping, especially along the Scholars Walk, which has angered some staff and faculty.

“I was walking to work one morning and noticed the bulldozers, but I didn’t really think about it much,” Marta Fahrenz, graduate studies coordinator for the School of Kinesiology, said. “But when I came out, everything was on the ground and the landscaping was dug up and gone. I had such a sense of shock and grieving.”

Complaints have streamed in to the University regarding the removal of landscaping on campus, but after the construction is complete, there are plans to plant trees and landscape the area, Cullen said.

“Part of the plan is to have trees lining the area and to replace those trees we had to cut down,” she said. “It’s not an afterthought; it was part of the design from the beginning.”

While Fahrenz said she appreciates University officials listening to concerns and planning to plant new trees, the demolition is still disappointing.

“When you put a road through a green space,” she said, “you can’t restore it to what it was before.”