College turns to bonds to fund new building

By Jazzy Davenport

In the past year, Columbia officials have worked to raise funds to finance the college’s first new building, the Media Production Center, which is expected to open spring 2010. So far, only $7 million has been raised to fund the $21 million building.

On April 21, Eric Winston, vice president of Institutional Advancement, said that the college had raised $6 million toward the new project. However, Allen Turner, chairman of the Board of Trustees, noted that an additional $1 million had been raised by April 24.

The administration expects that the building will be funded completely by donations and a minor capital effort that the college had leftover from a previous project. The Office of Institutional Advancement is in the process of creating alternative fundraising methods, including a page on Columbia’s website where donors could contribute money.

“The money for the MPC has come mostly from donations,” Winston said. “The college also has bonds to complete capital efforts being done on campus.”

The possession of bonds is similar to money that one would get from a bank to finance a house, car or school and then pay back. Columbia expects to pay their bonds back using the donated money raised along the way.

“In September, it looked like we might not have had to use bonds at all,” Winston said. “But when the economy went south, things changed. People were not able to donate as much as they wanted to.”

Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment, said it is not unusual for colleges to rely on bonds to finance campus projects.

Because this project is of great importance to some within the Columbia community, the college is working hard to complete the task, despite financial strain. To them, the purpose the Media Production Center will serve outweighs the financial obstacles Columbia may face in building it.

“We will have an opportunity to educate our students with state-of-the-art, 21st century equipment and with appropriate space to accompany it,” said Doreen Bartoni, dean of the School of Media Arts. “The Film and Video Department is the most populated major on campus and they have never had an adequate sound stage-now they will.”

Annette Barbier, chair of the Interactive Arts and Media Department, said the Media Production Center will allow film and video students to do professional work while operating in a professional, state-of-the-art facility.

The construction of the MPC has caused some controversy within the student body. Some students feel it is unfair for the film and video students to seemingly get an entire building for their use, while the college still lacks a school-wide student center, a project that has been discussed for many years but has been put on hold, once again, for financial reasons. Columbia’s administration has disputed this misnomer.

“As far back as the Campus Master Plan in 2005, we have sought to improve the quality of media arts,” Berg said. “It’s our first new building, but we’ve still been improving and catering to the needs of students throughout the campus. A campus center is still our long-term goal, but the quality of education takes precedence.”

According to most of the administration, Columbia’s Media Production Center will not primarily be for film and video students, but will satisfy a number of needs. Other students will have access to this facility, and other majors, such as television will be housed in this facility, as well. Administrators said it could give students a chance to work across different platforms.

“There may be ways that other students can benefit that we don’t really see right now,” said Joe Steiff, interim chair of theFilm and Video Department. “With the building of the MPC, film and video students will free up some space in other buildings,” Berg said. “There will be some space in the 14th Street building and other facilities that these students normally occupy that other folks could be using. It is not as if they are getting the MPC in addition to the space that they already have.”

Berg said she and others are continuing to look for ways to improve the campus, including the building of a new science lab this summer. However, Columbia may not be able to complete all of the planned projects that they would like to.

“We are seeing that we may not grow as fast as we anticipated because of the crumbling economy,” Berg said.

Still, members of the administration hope that in building the MPC, the door will be open for Columbia to construct more new buildings instead of retrofitting older buildings, as they have in the past.

“The MPC will be a success; there is just no other option,” Winston said. “And after it becomes a success, we will be able to focus on continuing to build and add to our campus.”