Declining enrollment and additional classrooms have left YSU with more space than students, a report shows.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- In October 1998, Youngstown State University hailed the opening of Beeghly Hall as a major step into the 21st century for the university and the Mahoning Valley.
Less than three years later, the $14.1 million, four-story building on Rayen Avenue is at the center of a debate about classroom space on campus.
While the debate is still in its early stages, some observers are questioning whether the building, which houses YSU's education school and was a centerpiece of former YSU President Leslie Cochran's Campus 2000 plan, was needed.
"This building has enhanced our program immensely," Dr. Philip Ginnetti, assistant education dean, said in defense of the facility.
"There's no question we needed this building to move forward."
Lowest rate: In a report released by the state auditor's office last week, Beeghly Hall's classroom utilization rate of 30 percent in the fall 2000 semester was the lowest of any of YSU's largest classroom buildings.
The problem doesn't end with Beeghly Hall.
Overall, YSU's classroom utilization rate was just under 40 percent, the auditor's report said. That means the 148 classrooms in which classes were scheduled in fall 2000 semester were in use about 40 percent of the time.
The auditor also found that the university's 251 laboratories were used 14 percent of the time in the fall semester and that 149 labs were not used for a single class.
Moser Hall, which houses YSU's engineering programs, has 55 labs, the most of any campus building, the report said. The labs were used 7 percent of the time.
Need for change: The rates, the auditor's report said, are too low. The report recommended the university take several steps to increase them, even if it means closing off unused space.
"I can't quarrel with the statement that classroom utilization is low," said Dr. G.L. Mears, YSU executive vice president.
"You can quibble about the details of how low it is and what it should be, but I don't think anyone on campus would seriously question that 40 percent, or even anything like that -- 50 percent or even 60 percent -- all of those would be somewhat lower than what you would expect."
Trustee Larry Esterly, chairman of the trustees' building and property committee, said YSU certainly has more space than it needs and that "could potentially involve the mothballing of some buildings."
"I think the administration has to look carefully at how some of the buildings are put to use," he said.
"Certainly we'll follow up on the assessment inventory that's called for in the report to see exactly what can be done," YSU President David Sweet said. "We're going to have to take a more detailed look."
The reason for the extra space is twofold.
"Enrollment has declined, yet the amount of space we have in classrooms has increased," Mears said. "We built Beeghly Hall and added a bunch more space there. Of course, as enrollment declines, there are just fewer students to be sitting in the classrooms."
Declining enrollment: YSU enrollment dropped by 3,667 students or 24 percent from 15,454 in 1990 to 11,787 in 2000. Yet, the report notes, since that time, Beeghly Hall was built and Bliss Hall was expanded.
Based on the university's space needs alone, Beeghly Hall was not needed, Mears said. But it's not that simple, he added.
The education school used to be housed in Fedor Hall, an old elementary school building that dates to the 1950s "and just simply wasn't adequate in terms of changes in how classes are taught today," Mears said.
Beeghly Hall was built not so much for additional classroom space but for the type of space the education school needed, such as enhanced computer labs, a curriculum center and a child study center, Ginnetti said.
"Fedor Hall was just not feasible for the kinds of things we were trying to do," Ginnetti said.
"Not only was the space not adequate [at Fedor Hall], but also the quality of space," Mears said. "Just saying you have X number of square feet of space is one small part of what you have to examine."
Beeghly Hall was financed through $12.1 million in state capital money and $2 million in private donations.
Possible fixes: The auditor's report makes several suggestions about how the university can increase use of buildings, including improved scheduling of classrooms.
The process is done manually by an administrative assistant in the registrar's office. Many classrooms are reserved by various academic departments.
"Over the years, as you can probably imagine, certain departments and certain faculty members grow to like a particular classroom," Mears said. "There's been some informal staking out of turf."
He also said students and faculty don't like early morning and late afternoon classes.
"So, even though you have a classroom available at 8 o'clock or at 4 o'clock, if nobody's willing to take the class or teach the class at those hours, it hurts your utilization rate," Mears said.
The report suggests YSU develop a computer program to assign space and tighten controls on academic department authority over certain classrooms.
The university should complete a detailed audit of its facilities that identifies the available space, its use and student capacity of each room, the report says.
YSU could determine it can operate with fewer buildings, but the report cautions against converting any space or closing any buildings before considering the university's long-term academic program and enrollment projections.
Mears said "it would very much be a long shot" that YSU would close a building.
The audit report also suggests possibly redesigning an under-used building into additional student housing.
Mears said other universities have done so to meet increased demand for student housing, but "obviously we are proceeding in another direction," he said.
YSU trustees last week chose a Georgia developer to build and manage a 400-bed student apartment complex on Wick Oval.