By Ethan Vaughan, Asst. News Editor

George Mason University spent $240 million on construction projects during the 2009-2010 school year, and it will continue to build into the foreseeable future, with a score of ongoing efforts reaching completion this summer.

Of the 22 items currently underway, 12 of them major construction projects, eight will make their debut between the
fall and spring semesters.

Opening their doors this summer will be the Biomedical Research Laboratory at Prince William, the Hylton Performing Arts Center at Prince William and the Aquia building at Fairfax in May; the Hampton Roads housing facility at Fairfax, the de Laski Performing Arts Building addition at Fairfax and the Mason Inn at Fairfax in July; and the Pilot House at Fairfax and the Center for Student Success in the SUB I addition at Fairfax in August.

Thomas Calhoun, vice president of Facilities, expressed particular excitement about Hampton Roads and the Pilot House, which he said would “be a great addition to campus life.”

“These projects markedly improve the university as a whole and make it an exciting place to be,” Calhoun said.

In addition to those projects concluding in the summer, a number will either continue into the fall or will begin with the start of the new school year.

In particular, University Hall, an administrative building, will be under construction until May 2011; Housing VIII, a 600-bed facility, will rise in Lot I; and an addition to Science and Tech II will begin at the end of the next school year.

“There will be about the same number of projects underway next year as this,” Calhoun elaborated. “These will be less visible because of the location and type of the projects. The total dollar value of these projects will also be slightly less, which might also suggest that the impact will be less.”

Calhoun was critical of the idea that the university should slow expansion during a time of increasing budget cuts and a deep recession.

“One must understand that there are multiple ways in which capital projects are funded,” Calhoun said.

“Some are funded directly by state appropriations. Others are funded with revenue bonds, where revenue from future operations of that facility will pay the debt. Residence halls and parking garages are examples of these types of projects. Still others rely heavily on the generosity of donors to the university. The de Laski family’s gift funded most of the Performing Arts Building addition.”

Calhoun also claimed that Mason’s steep tuition hikes in recent years were unrelated to the number of construction projects and said that some projects would be financially beneficial to the university.

“The cause of rising tuition is due primarily to a reduction in Commonwealth funding of operations,” he explained. “If we were to stop construction, it would have little to no effect on the cost of tuition. The Mason Inn will generate revenue over time. It provides, for the first time, on-campus temporary lodging and expanded conference facilities that will allow the university to host academic conferences in addition to providing a place for parents or new students to stay when visiting the campus.”

In fact, Calhoun said, Mason should look to maintain expansion, even during difficult financial times that have led to tuition spikes, increased classroom sizes and an overall higher cost of living.

“It is important for Mason or any university to continue to stay current,” he asserted. “Advances in technology and changes in teaching methods translate to a need for updating our facilities.

My opinion is we would become stagnant if we weren’t always looking to improve our physical assets.”