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Gee: Parking not central to academic life

Kaitlyn Lyle / Lantern reporter

Students with concerns about the financial effects of the possible $375 million parking lease had a chance to have their questions answered by university officials on Wednesday night.

Members of the Parking Advisory Committee, along with Undergraduate Student Government, the Council of Graduate Students and the Interprofessional Council held a town hall meeting in the Grand Hall Meeting room in the Ohio Union.

Students were invited to attend via an email sent on Monday night.

While about 80 people attended the meeting, USG President Nick Messenger said more than 70 students, unable to attend the meeting, also responded to the email with questions.

Though it was intended, none of the email questions were asked during the meeting, due to time restraints. Messenger said he plans to respond to the emails.

Multiple students at the meeting expressed gratitude to the committee members for “finally” providing a place to join in the conversation.

President E. Gordon Gee and Geoffrey Chatas, OSU’s chief financial officer, addressed students’ concerns about different issues affecting OSU’s financial operations.

“No one has convinced me that parking is central to the academic life of the university. But a 9-by-11 parking space represents a lot of scholarships, a lot of opportunities,” Gee said.

Many students had concerns about repercussions from the possible leasing of parking operations.

Students’ concerns were both personal and general. Some students asked about the impact the lease would have on scholarships and financial aid. Others inquired about funding issues in the future during the possible 30 to 50 year lease.

The minimum bid for the lease is $375 million. Chatas said that along with that initial lump sum, the university would save money by handing over operating and construction costs to the private vendor, making an overall estimated profit of $600 million.

However, the $80 million owed in parking garage construction costs would still be OSU’s responsibility, Chatas told the Lantern.

The Parking Advisory Committee, which met for the first time Tuesday, is working with three senate committees, the Senate Fiscal Committee, Senate Steering committee, and the Council on Physical Environment Committee, said Chatas.

James DeFrance, a fifth-year in geography and international studies and chair of the COPE Committee, was impressed with the variety of concerns expressed by students at the meeting.

“Some are short term, personal: ‘how will I be impacted,’ but it’s also really cool to me to see so many people taking a look at what is going to happen to the culture of the university,” DeFrance said.

Brian Derrick, a first-year in microbiology, hasn’t been on campus long, but said he came to the meeting to keep up with OSU’s financial operations and learn more about the parking proposal.

“My main concern was that leasing our parking assets would negatively affect students in the pricing of parking and services they would provide,” Derrick said. “They addressed it, and I am actually very confident that it would not negatively affect any services given to students at all.”

Though he doesn’t currently have a vehicle on campus, Derrick said he plans to next year. After attending the meeting, Derrick said he thinks the change could be a positive step for the university.

“I didn’t have a strong opinion coming in, but I’m definitely for it now,” Derrick said.

Dieter Smiley, a second-year in industrial systems engineering, also had a more positive opinion on the change after attending the meeting, though he does still have stipulations.

“I’m not against growth,” Smiley said. “(But) I think there should be a greater portion of the proceeds going toward funding students for covering tuition, scholarships, more so that than some projects that may not necessarily bring money back to the university.”

Messenger and USG are working to find a way to invest the possible money from the lease that would affect all students. One option is paying off debt on newly constructed buildings to reduce student fees.

“Take the Union as an example, $51 a quarter, $612 every four years. We all pay $3,900 in fees over the course of our four years,” Messenger said. “If you’re talking about giving something back to every single student, I think that’s a way we can really approach it.”

While some students’ qualms about the change have been alleviated since attending the meeting, some students will still inevitably have questions. Messenger acknowledges that there are still issues to be ironed out.

“It has to be a two-way conversation with the university (and students),” Messenger said.

Chatas said the university has received 10 responses to the university’s Request for Qualification.

The next phase in the process is the Request for Proposals. This phase will not begin until Winter Quarter 2012, Chatas said.

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