13 November 2012

New building! Hurray?

Plymouth University is building. My old office mate Alex, who did his undergraduate studies here, wouldn’t recognise the campus anymore. The building I’m in is only a few years old. The big eye-catching one on the south end of the campus is even younger. Our old offices (who had only just been painted; a job that clearly had been long overdue) will likely be turned into students’ accommodation, just like the building that holds the staff restaurant. On an old parking lot, a theatre is built. On what was a field, a new Marine Building has been raised. And the latter event had most effect on me. 

This building (the low one in the foreground) which holds the staff canteen is rumoured to be torn down... not many will miss it, I think. The tall building in the background was the School of Navigation back in the days; now it is students' accommodation. 

I am associated with the Marine School. As we, sea level people, clearly do marine research, we are on the Marine Institute mailing list. We get invited into Marine School events, and we often present our research there. I am, though that is trivial, wearing a Marine Institute lanyard while writing this. Would I move into the Marine building? No, as I am with Geography. Would I have, otherwise? Who knows…

The funny thing about the Marine building is that it doesn’t fit the Marine Institute. For instance, Gerd, the coastal geomorphologist, is in the adjacent building. They evidently hadn’t thought the building through very much. And the people I know who are in it aren’t happy with it; it’s open plan offices. Nobody likes these. So it sounds like this building is just a status symbol for the VC, and not a good housing for the institute. A bit like the one I'm in...

The new Marine building. Most marine people I know are, however, in the building to the left.

And us? Well, we moved into the space vacated by Gerd and companions. That was a mess too, as I already described. 

But at least there would be a bit of a party when the building would be officially opened. There had been mention of some celebration for months. Finally, an email with a promising subject landed in my mailbox. I thought it might be an invitation! But no. It said:
"To: All Staff, Plymouth University

Royal visit (30 October 2012) important campus parking and access information
Due to the opening of the Marine Building, and the large number of guests expected, it will be necessary to close a section of James Street to all traffic from 7am to approximately 4pm tomorrow (Tuesday 30 October 2012). Vehicle entry to/exit from campus through James Street South, off Cobourg Street, will not be possible for the duration of the day.

With the exception of permit holders and guests attending the event, there will be no other vehicle access permitted to campus for parking/unloading/deliveries. All deliveries should be re-arranged for an alternative date to ensure the number of traffic movements on campus, will be minimal. 

Should you be expecting an essential delivery that cannot be rescheduled, please email security.teamleaders@plymouth.ac.uk so that alternative arrangements can be investigated.
 Access and egress for permit holders who park in Portland Villas and Babbage, along with all guests who have parking arranged for the event, will be controlled through the Portland Villas barrier off North Road East.

Access for permit holders who park on the East side of the campus, i.e. Fitzroy/Mary Newman, will be off North Hill exiting onto Endsleigh Place.

In addition, as the Marine Building – which is normally open during the day – will be locked, it would be worth advising all staff and students based in the Marine Building to ensure they bring and wear their University card for the day.

Staff are advised that they can watch the live stream of the event at www.plymouth.ac.uk/marinebuilding and follow on Twitter at #HRHTheDukeofEdinburghplymuni."

From the University website

Very inviting! We were supposed to stay away and watch online. At least it's consistent; these buildings are not built to the demands of the employees, and in order to make that clear, employees are not even welcome at the opening. I’m not quite sure if university management is especially talented at winning over the hearts of their people. Another email clarified that, indeed, that is not their priority at all: 

"To: All Staff, Plymouth University

Important campus developments

Dear Colleagues,

I want to let everyone know about some important campus developments that will further enhance our position as a first choice University for prospective students.

It is our intention to create an additional 800 student study bedrooms on campus to be available from September 2014. These new facilities will meet a significant shortfall in demand for approved, allocated accommodation for first year students. 

A recent national student satisfaction survey showed that on campus student accommodation was one of the key factors in choosing a university. We enjoyed excellent recruitment figures this year, however of those who wanted to join us, but were unable to do so, the key reason was because we could not guarantee accommodation.

As some of you may already be aware, we have been working with UPP as our student accommodation partner since the late 1990s. Recently, we began discussions to explore how we might create more student bedrooms on campus. We also looked at how we might better accommodate our academic and professional services staff in space that better suits new teams, structures and our teaching and research priorities, and reflects our position as one of the world’s leading modern universities.

The plans show how we can create a new western gateway into the campus, further integrating it with our city. This will be achieved through the refurbishment of all the current University accommodation, with houses mainly used as offices on Portland Villas, Kirkby Terrace, Kirkby Place and Endsleigh Place becoming townhouse-style student accommodation. The plan also includes redevelopment of Pitts Memorial Hall and Gibbon Street, which will be further complemented by a bespoke new build planned for the corner of John Street (to the south of Portland Villas) and the demolition of Isaac Foot with a new building on that site.

The plans will create a vibrant campus student village, offering a diversity of accommodation types, and most importantly of all, offering guaranteed accommodation for all of our first year students.

This is the next phase in our ongoing long-term investment in our campus, where we have spent some £300 million to date. We will continue to invest to support the student experience and ensure that we maintain a contemporary and fit-for-purpose estate with inspirational surroundings for our students, staff and local communities.

I am pleased to invite you to join us to view the UPP student accommodation plans and ask any questions. These will be on display in the Portland Square Building, Atrium B, from noon to 8pm on Wednesday 21st November and Thursday 22nd November and 10am to 2pm on Friday 23rd November 2012. The plans will go before the Plymouth City Council Planning Committee on the 5th December and, subject to approval, we will then be able to share more information on timeframes as we move forward.

In the meantime, you can also send questions or feedback to spacestrategy@plymouth.ac.uk.

Best Wishes,

Professor Wendy Purcell
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive"


So altogether it looks like the university has decided it won't try to prioritise research, and won't try to attract students with excellent teaching, but just by offering them an easy house. It might be a winning strategy, in a financial sense. But is it really a good idea to dedicate your campus to glamour and student flats, and leave a lot of your staff disgruntled? Time will tell...

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