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Vol. 53, No.1 August 11, 2010
BUILDING DEMOLITION MESS AT BROOKLYN COLLEGE
AND THE INCOMPETENCE OF THE PSC AND CUNY'S ADMINISTRATORS
Since December 2006, The Patriot Returns has invited and published open letters from PSC members who have substantive comments about CUNY and PSC issues as they relate to faculty. The following is one such letter from a veteran of Brooklyn College. The author writes about frustration with CUNY and Brooklyn College administrators and the do-nothing PSC leadership.
On June 15th an email went out from the PSC offices signed by Barbara Bowen asking members to join the rally to demand that pending budget cuts be stopped and monies be restored to the university. A number of PSC members, including CLTs and HEOs, found this project to be downright absurd. For too long we have been the silent, good soldiers, refraining from criticizing the administration, thinking they must know what they are doing. It has become quite apparent that both CUNY, Brooklyn College and our own silent PSC leadership really, really have not a clue. This frustration and anger comes from the stupidity of the people making terrible, costly decisions that will live on long after they are gone and that will have a sustained and negative impact on our students and our ability to service them and the departments in these disciplines.
Even in the short term, the people responsible at CUNY and in the BC Administration have no plan, no idea of the impact the new "Performing Arts Center" to be built on the site of the venerable Gershwin Hall. It is a seriously flawed project and a waste of millions of dollars at a time when CUNY is telling us to fight cuts to its budget while they move forward determined to demolish Gershwin Hall. Gershwin Hall houses both the 500 seat Gershwin Theatre and the 150 seat Sam Levenson Recital Hall as well as practice rooms, classrooms a sound recording studio, the Electronic Music Technology labs and the Performing Arts office complex. It is a structurally sound, functioning building. CUNY's plan is to demolish it rather than refurbish, modernize, upgrade and enhance the building and the two existing performance spaces at what would be a much, MUCH lesser cost.
Just recently, they realized that they now have no place to put the two departments and operating staff that will be displaced by the demolition. They discovered that the million dollars they thought would cover what they call the "swing space" is not enough! ("Swing space": fancy name for, "Where are we going to put these people for four to five years.") Ooops, asbestos in the rooms they thought they could use, so now it's "Well, we'll put them in rented trailers." These administrators are like chickens running around without heads, and they expected all of us to sit quietly and not notice that the emperor has no clothes.
So far, our PSC leadership has been silent, and I am old enough to be cynical enough to think they probably are either 1) in bed with the administration, or 2) they are as incompetent and clueless as the administration seems to be. Our PSC's President Barbara Bowen and V. P. Steven London true to form, are right with the CUNY program, sitting quietly without any objection, without demanding any input and without taking a stand on this doomed project. But that flurry of never ending emails from their pens espousing all sorts of "solidarity" activity with this and that social cause, while the Titanic sinks in our own back yard....or in this case, while Gershwin Hall meets the wrecking ball. Perhaps instead of marching to stop cuts to CUNY, we should be rallying to stop CUNY and Brooklyn College from squandering millions on this ill-conceived project, and sorry to say, the PSC has been complicit in that it has not said boo about the fact that CUNY has chosen to short-change our students and spend $75 million on an project that is nothing but an incredible, waste of money. They will probably wind up spending $80 or $85 million if one adds in the incompetence factor -- they are already a year behind schedule and they haven't even gone to bid yet; every month a building project is put on hold, the prices go up. It is an incomprehensible plan to raze a perfectly viable, sound building, destroy two theatres and replace it with a single theatre instead.
It all started with a generous gift from the Tow Foundation of a $10,000,000 to "build a new performing arts building" IN ADDITION to the existing two theatres and classroom complex that are run to capacity every semester mounting the Conservatory of Music and the Theatre Department student productions and recitals. While $10,000,000 is generous, it won't build a Performing Arts Center -- the rest would have to come from the taxpayers -- you and me. Now comes the snowball of bad decisions which keeps growing larger by the week. The original proposal was to build a NEW facility BETWEEN the Gershwin Hall and Whitman Hall wings of the current Performing Arts complex, ADDING additional performance space, practice rooms, a shop and other related rooms -- a great idea at first blush, but then they hit a major snag.
What went wrong? The brilliant CUNY people "didn't realize" that there was a 100 year-old sewer tunnel running UNDER the very space upon which they planned to build, and the EPA said, "not a chance; you are not building anything on top of a sewer tunnel that services all of lower Brooklyn."
The CUNY solution? -- rather that find alternative space on campus to build, their decision was to demolish a perfectly viable, stable and functioning building that houses two theatres which the departments and their students desperately need for their over 200 performances each year. What the department and the students will get in return is a much smaller (by 450 seats) SINGLE theatre into which they will have to figure out how to do their yearly number of performances. With TWO functioning theatres these departments were strapped to schedule their full compliment of productions, concerts and recitals. What CUNY is offering is to build a single theatre in place of two. The CUNY team assures everyone that the worry about how this can possibly work is a "perceptional" problem. NO, it's a math problem; of course they can't do the same number of performances a semester -- they had trouble juggling dates to get them all in with TWO performance spaces. So if and when this project gets done, the students get nothing out of the deal.
And what do CUNY and Brooklyn College get? They get to hold press conferences and pat themselves on the back say that they built a spanking new "Performing Arts Center." It puts feathers in everyone's cap except the students, the teachers of the Conservatory of Music and Theatre Department and the staff of technicians that have to operate the place. There will have to be FEWER performances a semester simply because there will be only one theatre space instead of two. As all the everyone who works with these programs in the trenches here knows, that will be a disaster. The big wigs will get lots of press and then a month later they will have walk away to other projects and for the next 50 years students, professors and staff will have to deal with their mistakes and this scandalous waste of money.
If this is the way CUNY spends taxpayer money, and squanders an already strapped budget, then they don't deserve any pity about the budget cuts being leveled at them. How is this for a rally cry: SAVE $75,000,000 dollars! Stop the debacle called "the new performing arts center!" It may be "new" but it advances nothing; it's just money spent on a building that does nothing but replace the existing one but with one less theatre housed in it. This represents a squandered $75-$80 million that would cover the proposed budget cuts multiple times over!
Want a spanking new performing arts facility? -- then apply just $10 - $15 million or so to refurbishing the two theatres in Gershwin Hall and actually GIVE the student's something rather than cheating them. If the donors don't want to refurbish the existing two theatres in Gershwin Hall (that's the reason the administration has put forth as to why CUNY and the college have decided in their infinite wisdom to demolish two functional theatres), and if the administration simply cannot find another appropriate space on the campus to properly build an addition to the existing theatres, then it should have stopped right there. But it seems to be rolling down hill and no one able to stop it.
The idea that they are actually going to raze a viable, operational building with two theatres with a seating capacity of 650 seats to replace it with a single 200 seat theatre is unconscionable and the PSC which has been mute about this plan of monumental stupidity and disgusting waste should be screaming from the rooftops about this. But not a peep. CUNY might as well be dumping these millions into that sewer. Seems like the PSC is helping them dig.
No, if this is how CUNY wastes money, then the taxpayers should demand that the CUNY budget be cut even more.
Sharad Karkhanis, Ph.D.