In a continuation of the new housing and construction plans on campus, the University will tear down some of the forest area near the Quick Center parking lot to create more spots. This has caused an uproar among students and faculty. (Peter Caty/The Mirror)

The University has announced that construction to expand the Quick Center parking lot will start March 1, much to the chagrin of environmentally concerned faculty, students and staff.

In expanding parking lot O3 on the southeast side of campus, 20 percent of the existing hardwood forest behind the apartments will be cut down, affecting faculty and student research projects, as wells as wildlife on campus.

“Considering we do not have a lot of untouched forest left on campus, this will be a huge loss,” said Zachary Gross, secretary and treasurer of the Student Environmental Association. The Environmental Steering Committee, comprised of faculty, staff and students, are attempting to delay the project and get the administration to move the parking lot to another, less destructive location.

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“It’s a simple step that we can take to bring an important campus issue to light,” said Gross.

The Campus Sustainability Committee, which was originally formed after President von Arx signed on to the President’s Climate Initiative, was surprised when they learned of the plans on Feb. 1, one month before the start construction date.

Although not power-wielding, the committee had been assured by Mark Reed, Vice President of Student Affairs, that they would be informed of any future construction projects that would impact campus environment to solidifying plans.

In response to hearing plans of the construction, faculty and students sent a letter to President von Arx, asking the University to reevaluate the plans for parking on the south end of campus to find a solution, which preserves the forest.

At the faculty’s Academic Council meeting on March 1, a motion to postpone construction was passed unanimously. Faculty insisted that the discussions between the ad hoc group who signed the letter to von Arx on Feb. 17 and the administration should take place before any construction.

Past construction problems

Faculty said they had made it clear that it was the most valuable forest on campus.

“We specifically communicated the importance of the woodlot in question to Vice President Reed when we walked the campus with him and Facilities Management staff members in October 2007,” stated a letter written by concerned faculty and students to von Arx.

The committee believes that giving only one month’s notice is a complete disregard of the spoken pact with Reed to be informed of construction plans in advance. This was established after a sizable forest was cut down in order to build the Co-Gen facility in 2007, located south of the Grauert Field.

Although the Co-Gen facility was environmentally-friendly in terms of energy, the bird and wildlife habitat was compromised during construction.

“They completely changed the ecosystem without consulting anybody,” said Dina Franceschi, an Economics professor at Fairfield.

The Committee learned in October 2008 of the Village Complex plans when they were finalized, yet plans regarding the Quick Center parking lot were not included, according to Franceschi.

“It is my understanding that the Sustainability Committee was told about the various campus construction plans, as far back as October 2008,” said Reed.

“Given the numerous communications to the campus community, the coverage in various news outlets, and the public hearings about these projects, parking studies, and planning in general, I am confident that people were able to be informed about what was being planned and taking place.”

Paving Paradise All Over Campus

Because of the economic crisis which brought campus building to a halt last February, Franceschi said that they weren’t thinking about anything concerning construction, besides the new Jesuit residence and the Day Care center. For the Jesuit Residence, professors informed the administration of areas that should be left untouched, yet they were taken down anyway, according to Franceschi.

“Why tell us if you are going to engage us in conversations when you don’t? We can’t credibly tell students when they come here that we can engage in faculty student research on this campus and/or will have any on-campus laboratory experiences.

“Several of us had grave concerns about the committee from the start, given that it was really just a façade to meet the requirements,” said Franceschi.

Reed explained that the decision to expand the Quick Center parking lot is due to strained parking on the south end of campus. Much of the south end of campus, he said, is designated as wetlands or “have been given or designated as easements in the past,” while the Quick Center lot is located within a permissible building area.

Therefore, the options of where to locate expanded parking on the south end of campus were limited, and a location that builds off an existing lot, in a permissible building location, was chosen.

The planning process for the various construction projects, in terms of design and regulatory approvals, began in the summer of 2008, and was more or less completed by early 2009.  The start of construction was delayed in March 2009 and approved in December 2009.

As part of the regulatory approval processes required by the Town of Fairfield and the State of Connecticut, there were public applications and hearings held, including the town’s planning and zoning commission and conservation commission, as well as the state’s traffic commission.  All boards reviewed and approved the plans.  The conservation commission, in particular, that reviews plans from the perspective of environmental impacts, approved the plans.

“All of the recent development projects have removed or degraded campus natural areas,” said Biology professor Jen Klug, whose water research testing streams on campus will be impacted by the new lot. “If we do need more parking on that end of campus, it doesn’t need to be in that exact location.”

Faculty Research

Biology professor Brian Walker, who is researching bird activity on campus using 85 birdhouses around campus, will have to take down a birdhouse and start over in parts of his research.

“I was told that I would have to remove my research projects by March,” he said.

Bird activity will completely be changed, said Biology professor Tod Osier, who also uses the woods as part of his ornithology class, explained that although only 20 percent of the woods will be paved over, the whole ecosystem will be affected because the forest will not be as deep, and activity is significantly different on the edges of forests.

“It’s the only block of continuous forest, besides the area behind Bellarmine, that forest birds can breed,” said Osier.

Faculty members have suggested that administration consider expanding the parking lot in St. Ignatius Hall, the former Jesuit residence. Although forest would still be impacted, less trees would be taken down in the process.

“I don’t think anyone wants to see or is not sensitive to impacts to student and faculty research,” said Reed. “I do think, however, that things have to be viewed in context, with a complete picture and not through one particular lens or perspective.”

Pedestrian-campus?

Alex Roem ’10, the director of Green Campus Initiative (GCI) is working to get the attention of students, who are unaware of the situation.

“It’s frustrating because the administration wasn’t forthcoming about this information and it directly affects students,” she said.

Apart from the environmental issue, Laura Gilmartin ’12 showed frustration with the administration’s overall parking issue.  The Quick Center remains to be empty for most of the day, as parking privileges for students in the lot were taken away starting this fall.

“How is it that sophomores lose parking, and then they make a new parking lot?” she said.

Franceschi was distressed over the lack of necessity for the additional parking, saying: “In the meeting with Reed, he admitted time and time again that there is ample parking on this campus it’s a matter of where that parking is, and I am almost sick to my stomach that people can’t walk a short distance.”

In fact, Mark Reed also told faculty that they are unsure if students will or will not be using the parking lot.

“There has not been a final determination as to the parking category or group that will be assigned to the expanded part of the lot. The current lot will remain for Quick Center patrons, plus special event or purpose parking,” said Reed.

“It’s like Field of Dreams,” Osier said. “They say they have to build the parking lot, but they don’t know what it’s for.”

Franceschi resounded Gilmartin, reminding that even if students are allowed to park there, this construction goes against the pedestrian-campus initiative the administration has been promoting for the past few years.

“I don’t care who you are,” said Franceschi. “You can walk four minutes across campus.”

“There’s so much unused parking,” said Jarrod DePrado ’12, who helped give surveys at the Quick Center. “If they are trying to make this campus pedestrian-friendly, I think building this parking lot is counterproductive.”

105 out of 145 Quick Center attendants the Environmental Steering Committee surveyed said that they had not heard of the expansion and the parking lot was not necessary.

“Most of them said they don’t even like parking on that side anyway,” said Franceschi. “They all like to parking lot beside the Quick Center, so why are we expanding the lot across the street?”

Two respondents said that the parking expansion was necessary.

A petition sent to students and faculty showed that 65 out of 67 were against the parking lot expansion, and Alex Roem said about 200 people have signed the petition at the desk of the BCC this week.

“I think we’re getting a pretty good response, and students are asking questions,” said Roem.

If you are interested in learning more about the construction, an open Green Campus/Student Environmental Association Initiative meeting will be held Tuesday, March 16 at 8 p.m. in the BCC Mezzanine.

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