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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Editorial: University Village incident sparks discussion on safety, spending

Dated housing needs to be updated so history isn’t repeated.

Feb. 26, 2014

Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Maneater editorial board.

We, as the MU community and people of Columbia, need to discuss what happened last weekend at University Village.

Early Saturday morning, a balcony partially collapsed at University Village apartments building 707. The fire department responded, and while firefighters were on the scene, the balcony completely collapsed, killing Lt. Bruce Britt. Those who remained in their 707 building homes were evacuated out back windows.

As of Saturday, the other buildings in the complex were structurally reinforced with temporary building jacks. The University Village grounds include 12 buildings with 12 units each, housing mostly graduate students and their families. All 12 units were built in 1956, post-World War II, and were only meant to last 25-30 years, Department of Residential Life Director Frankie Minor said in 2009.

Later Saturday, MU announced intent to investigate all university owned and leased buildings — upward of 250 facilities statewide — for structural soundness in the coming days and weeks. MU will use this data to create short and long term renovation goals. Residence halls were the first to be inspected.

We applaud the Department of Residential Life on its speedy response in the aftermath of this incident. ResLife has really taken care of these students. Those affected have been placed in a ResLife facility, hotel or another University Village apartment temporarily and received a free dining plan and gift cards to purchase necessities for the time being. We also appreciate how MU is allowing the affected residents to break lease to find alternate housing. It is the right thing to do. (Cough, cough, Aspen Heights.)

Hindsight is 20/20, but something could have been done sooner. We know this issue has been on ResLife’s radar since 2009 (cue Frankie Minor), but it obviously has not been a priority. These buildings are decrepit and look like they are going to crumble. Maybe it is out of sight, out of mind, but how could ResLife not take action?

The only thing MU, ResLife and Columbia can do is move forward, but there are certain considerations that need to be taken in doing so.

We have heard repeatedly that the money is not there. Well, then, where is it? We know ResLife is a self-sustaining entity with a $2.8-million budget and only gets extra allocations for repairing and building new structures. This fact aside, find some funds. Money is no longer an excuse for shirking safety. Safety is a justification for requesting, begging for, even, additional funds. Last week, the MU News Bureau reported that MU was ahead of its fundraising goal. We understand that donations are sometimes specific, but why not create a fund to fix these dated complexes?

In the past, MU has asked for money to renovate McKee Gymnasium and Waters Hall, among other buildings. While ResLife is at it, maybe it should look into renovating Tara Apartments, another university-owned graduate housing complex that hauntingly resembles University Village.

If anything, this incident has made it clear that graduate housing is not a priority to ResLife. These apartments are some of the worst on campus. The MU community often forgets that the graduate population is just as important as the undergraduates. There is a tendency to view graduate students as self-sustaining and as not part of the student body. When something goes wrong in undergraduate housing, parents will raise hell. It is hard for graduate students to match the same type of noise when they are working hard, taking care of things at home and dealing with Missouri’s largest university as a landlord.

We understand the appeal of building shiny new structures. They “wow” incoming students and parents alike, but they are clearly not an indicator of the long-term care that students will receive here. Tour guides do not take potential students by University Village, and if they did, parents would be horrified.

Students are at the heart of the issue here. As we usher in a new administration, we need to keep increasing student enrollment in mind. If MU is going to keep boosting enrollment numbers, administration has to keep in mind the fact that our campus does not have the infrastructure to handle it. Columbia as a whole cannot even handle it. We see evidence of this in the growing number of luxury apartments downtown and a city that is scrambling to cope with it.

We know that R. Bowen Loftin’s administrative hallmark is bolstering enrollment, but by cramming more students onto this campus, lives become endangered, and sometimes, lost.

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