In Our November, 2017 Issue:

Arthur on campus space study: ‘It pays to do it right, do it well, and take the time we need’

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The Met­ro­pol­i­tan met with Pres­i­dent Ginny Arthur on Oct. 20 for an hour-​long con­ver­sa­tion. Arthur dis­cussed the details of the space uti­liza­tion study, the future of the Mid­way cam­pus, and the loss of the Black Box The­ater as a per­for­mance space for Metro State The­ater students.

This is the first in a planned monthly series of inter­views with Pres­i­dent Arthur.

President Ginny Arthur in her office in New Main, Oct. 20, 2017.

Metro State recently com­mis­sioned a ‘Space Uti­liza­tion Study’ that pro­poses shift­ing offices and ser­vices around on cam­pus. What should stu­dents know about it?

This is about get­ting things clus­tered together for stu­dents. If you go to one office and it turns out you need another ser­vice, it will not be far away. On that same prin­ci­ple, we want to get aca­d­e­mic depart­ments clus­tered together. There’s more syn­ergy when they’re close together and every­one can talk to their colleagues.

You’ve called this a student-​centered, student-​facing plan — what does that mean exactly?

Some­times stu­dents don’t know all the things that we have avail­able. If they’re look­ing for one thing, they might dis­cover oth­ers. So we really open up the space in a dif­fer­ent way. In Founder’s Hall, there’s Coun­sel­ing Ser­vices and stu­dent ser­vices like the Vet­er­ans Cen­ter, Women’s and LGBTQ Cen­ter. Instead of hav­ing them scat­tered across first and sec­ond floor, let’s have them in all one area. I think stu­dents don’t go in these offices because they see it as closed off area. Let’s open it up.

We saw that work in Min­neapo­lis in the MEC [Man­age­ment Edu­ca­tion Cen­ter] on the sec­ond floor. We had to move out due to a ven­ti­la­tion, heat­ing and cool­ing prob­lem. There used to be a whole maze of cubi­cles and they took those out. Now there’s a big open area and fac­ulty are say­ing, “Let’s put in a few com­fort­able chairs and tables and chairs, and some pub­lic access com­put­ers.” It’s an invit­ing area. Those are the kind of spaces that encour­age inter­ac­tion between stu­dents and faculty.

We have been talk­ing about mov­ing the cam­pus food shelf [the Food for Thought Food Pantry] too. When stu­dents dis­cover it, then they use it. But it’s not in a very wel­com­ing space cur­rently. Also they have a long way to move food when the truck pulls in to unload. Plan is to recon­fig­ure it in St. John’s Hall, closer to the park­ing lot and the bus line.

A visu­ally strik­ing part of the plan is to move the Book­store to the Stu­dent Cen­ter, and then give its for­mer space to the Gor­don Parks Art Gallery and Insti­tute for Com­mu­nity Engage­ment and Schol­ar­ship (ICES). What’s the idea behind that?

The university’s com­mit­ment to com­mu­nity engage­ment is a cen­tral part of our mis­sion — and it should be vis­i­ble to the com­mu­nity. This space has lots of win­dows and lots of peo­ple come through to go to the pub­lic library and our library. Hav­ing ICES [Insti­tute for Com­mu­nity Engage­ment and Schol­ar­ship] there makes a much more vis­i­ble state­ment about who we are.

Mov­ing the art gallery was the consultant’s idea because he heard from Pro­fes­sor Erica Ras­mussen that the art gallery has these beau­ti­ful shows but not a lot of foot traf­fic. It’s up on the third floor and a lit­tle out of the way. So what if we put that front and cen­ter for both pub­lic patrons and students?

We also want to reserve some of the space for pub­lic part­ners. The work­force cen­ter for the county and the city of St. Paul would love to have a pres­ence on cam­pus. Ram­sey County social ser­vices is inter­ested too. It would be a resource for stu­dents. We have a lot of stu­dents who live on the edge of poverty and could use some help in get­ting enrolled in pro­grams or help with housing.

What other parts of the plan offer real change for students?

We went ahead and got the new Test­ing Cen­ter under con­struc­tion [in New Main]. It will be done next week. The con­cept was to put all test­ing in one space, includ­ing a quiet area for stu­dents that may need that as an accom­mo­da­tion. There are banks of com­put­ers for assess­ments. An open area with desks and tables for makeup exams. The beauty of it is we can extend hours with the same amount of staff. We can stag­ger their hours and offer a lot more cov­er­age. I’d heard it was hard for stu­dents to get their tests done with lim­ited hours for testing.

Cyber secu­rity is a really grow­ing area of inter­est for stu­dents, so the old Edu­cated Palate café in New Main will become the Cyber Secu­rity Cen­ter. It turns out it’s the per­fect space as it was set up to power freez­ers, big refrig­er­a­tors, an indus­trial stove and grill.

We just reached an agree­ment with a large multi­na­tional com­pany to get a top-​grade cyber attack sim­u­la­tor. There will be an attack­ing team and a defense team, and oth­ers can play the recre­ational hack­ers. Fac­ulty are mon­i­tor­ing the whole exer­cise, and offer debrief­ing with the team.

We need spe­cial servers for this cen­ter too. We don’t want this hooked into the uni­ver­sity servers. The idea is cor­po­ra­tions in the Twin Cities, if they think they’re under attack, could redi­rect their traf­fic to these servers. This is an oppor­tu­nity for under­grad­u­ates and master’s degree stu­dents to work on real problems.

You’ve men­tioned some prob­lems in the MEC build­ing on the Min­neapo­lis cam­pus. How will they be fixed?

MEC is a whole dif­fer­ent project. We are in the bond­ing bill for a major asset preser­va­tion, to fix the heat­ing and ven­ti­la­tion prob­lems. When we started this dis­cus­sion a few years ago, we thought if it involves tear­ing up every­thing inside MEC to install a new sys­tem, how about we plan to make that space more func­tional at the same time? MCTC and the [Min­nesota State] sys­tems office agreed with us. It’s more work than just those upgrades. We would have more stu­dent gath­er­ing space and office space in MEC too.

What does the bond­ing bill process entail? Can the Leg­is­la­ture, over the course of the ses­sion, extract what they don’t like in the bill and then poten­tially our build­ing doesn’t get fixed?

What nor­mally hap­pens is we have an inter­nal process. We bring together peo­ple from across the [Min­nesota State] sys­tem and every­one puts in their pro­posed projects. Then there’s a scor­ing rubric to make a pri­or­i­tized list of maybe 40 projects.

What has tended to hap­pen, his­tor­i­cally, is maybe the first 10 to 12 projects — the high­est pri­or­i­ties of the sys­tem — tend to get funded. But this last leg­isla­tive ses­sion? Totally by sur­prise — what­ever deals were going on behind doors at the Leg­is­la­ture — they picked the projects that they wanted to do instead of the priorities.

The HEAPR [Higher Edu­ca­tion Asset Preser­va­tion and Renewal] project for MCTC was sup­posed to be num­ber one on the list. We had to move peo­ple out this sum­mer because we didn’t think we’d have air con­di­tion­ing. It was bad. But the leg­is­la­tors went and picked some­thing else on the list.

We have hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars of deferred main­te­nance in the Min­nesota State sys­tem. We always try to get as much as we can for HEAPR and do as many of those projects as pos­si­ble. But that’s an ongo­ing thing that we’ll never catch up with.

Based on reg­is­tra­tion num­bers, and anec­do­tally, stu­dents seem to love the Mid­way cam­pus. But Metro State doesn’t own the build­ingit’s leased. What are the long term plans for Mid­way?

I know that stu­dents like it. I’d love to hear more about what it is that they like about it. I think our longer term strat­egy is to not to be in Mid­way. It’s a very expen­sive facil­ity. It’s leased, so we can’t always do what we want to do to make it work the way we want it to.

Here’s a good exam­ple. For the last two years, fac­ulty mem­bers have been rais­ing the issue of cell phone cov­er­age in the base­ment. We need a repeater to strengthen the sig­nals. Sev­eral repeaters prob­a­bly, because they are car­rier dependent.

We’ve been try­ing to work with Welling­ton [the build­ing owner and man­ager]. It’s an expen­sive propo­si­tion for us to do it on our own. We finally have con­vinced them this is a safety and poten­tial lia­bil­ity issue. They are will­ing to col­lab­o­rate with us to find a tech­nol­ogy solution.

If we put a cou­ple hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars into a leased space, and then we’re not there long-​term? It’s hard to invest a lot of money. But for the fore­see­able future, we will be at Midway.

How can stu­dents give their input on the Space Uti­liza­tion Study?

Please email space.​comments@​metrostate.​edu. We also have been doing gallery walks, hav­ing admin­is­tra­tors there to explain the dia­grams. We have Post-​it notes so peo­ple can write a note and stick it on the diagrams.

We wel­come everyone’s feed­back. We’re gath­er­ing it until mid-​November, then we’ll take it all and com­pile it. It’s pos­si­ble we’ll just have minor tweaks. Or maybe com­ments will make us rethink part of the plan. In which case we would have the con­sul­tant redo the boards with the new plan, and then go for a shorter round of feedback.

What’s the time­line for chang­ing all these spaces?

We want to final­ize the plan by late March. It’s kind of like domi­noes. We’d have to do con­struc­tion on the Stu­dent Cen­ter first if we’re going to move the Book­store. Shift­ing offices around could be done over a summer.

It’d be hard for me to pre­dict, but it couldn’t all hap­pen in one year. Plus, how much will this all cost? We haven’t got­ten there yet because this isn’t finalized.

I’m think­ing two to five years of imple­men­ta­tion. That may sound like a long time but this is a strate­gic eval­u­a­tion of our space and how to use it. We would be mak­ing progress to a more per­ma­nent use of the space. It pays to do it right, do it well, and take the time we need. There’s not going to be a sin­gle ‘every­body get up and move’ moment.

Another change com­ing to cam­pus: Min­neapo­lis Com­mu­nity and Tech­ni­cal Col­lege (MCTC) is demol­ish­ing its Black Box The­ater after sell­ing the land to a pri­vate devel­oper. Our The­ater stu­dents are upset over the loss of their class­room, rehearsal and per­for­mance space at MCTC. Are there plans to give them a new home?

We are def­i­nitely in con­ver­sa­tion with MCTC about what should we do. Dis­cussing our need for a Black Box and a multi-​purpose space. Space for move­ment classes. Access to scenery. Every­thing we need for a the­ater program.

It is a con­ver­sa­tion with them about how to move for­ward. I asked the Provost to be in con­ver­sa­tion with MCTC’s chief aca­d­e­mic offi­cer. We need to talk at that level, and have a clear and direct con­ver­sa­tion. We would like to try to work with MCTC, but there are other options in the Twin Cities for find­ing a home. Being in a sys­tem means work­ing with all our sis­ter cam­puses in the Twin Cities.

I know the The­ater pro­gram loves being in down­town Min­neapo­lis, but if we don’t have the space that’s suit­able there, then we may have to trade off that par­tic­u­lar loca­tion for a dif­fer­ent loca­tion where you can have the right space.

We are try­ing to work it out. We are def­i­nitely look­ing for the com­bi­na­tion of the right space and loca­tion to suit the phi­los­o­phy and approach of the the­ater department.