Student Center funds may need back-up plan

By Editorial Board

The former Johnson Publishing Company building, an 11-story tower that housed the company that published EBONY and JET magazines and several other publications that were icons to the black community, is under consideration for Historic Landmark status, according to a Feb. 2 press release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel. 

Columbia purchased the building in late 2010 for an estimated $8 million, according to a June 14, 2016 Chicago Business article. Columbia planned to convert it into a library and then considered it for its proposed student resource center but decided students needed a more open space. Now, Columbia plans to use the profits from selling the Johnson building to help pay for the upcoming $50 million student center for which has hired an architecture firm to begin the planning phase completed in the 2015–2016 academic year. 

Now that the building is up for historic landmark status, it could be less marketable for the college because of the restrictions that go along with this designation. According to college spokeswoman Anjali Julka, the building has not been sold as of press time. 

Landmark status is a prestigious honor, but Columbia needs to be very conscious of whether the Johnson building can sell. If it can’t, Columbia should either halt the plans to create a new student center entirely or develop a new, less expensive concept.

Though Columbia likely won’t take money out of students’ tuition to pay for the student center if the sale falls through, the administration needs to be extremely clear about how it plans to finance the building without this source of revenue.

Another option is to find alternate uses for the center’s projected $50 million budget. The priority should be to fix problems students are concerned about such as getting new desks, carpets and computers and keeping tuition at the same rate every year.

In its vacant state, the building is not benefiting anyone at Columbia, especially students. Though it has obvious historical significance and held in reverence by the African-American community, Columbia must be responsive to the needs of its students, which may not involve a student center. If the money isn’t available, Columbia should not even be considering pursuing it.