With the recent announcement regarding the university’s purchase of 141 S. Main St. (formerly Bartikowsky Jewelers) and the renovations for the UCOM came some backlash from students and faculty who are concerned that the renovations are not putting the money to use fairly.
Much of the feedback came from the Communication Studies Department, which has been petitioning for eight years for a new building, said Mark Stine, department chair.
Stine said there had been talk as recently as last summer about consolidating the Communication Studies Department into one building. Specifically, Stine had relayed information to the administration that Bartikowsky’s would be “the best fit” for the department.
The enthusiasm, however, was turned to disappointment when, after the building’s purchase, the administration revealed it was to be used as “swing space” for offices while the UCOM was renovated for the Jay S. Sidhu School of Business.
“I don’t at all doubt the genuineness of both our current provost and president’s desire to bring us together,” Stine said. “I think they truly do see it as something important. But at the end of the day, it has to actually happen.
“I think Communication Studies will suffer if we don’t come together in one year or two years,” he continued. “If you look at the communication industry today, it’s an industry in which they’re delivering content via internet, television, radio … our department, that is spread all over campus, really doesn’t have the opportunity to reflect what’s going on in the industry due to our lack of physical proximity.”
Some students also expressed disappointment with the renovations, implying that certain aesthetic features, like the new gated entrance to the campus, are a waste of money.
“It’s great that Wilkes is spending millions on a ‘dramatic gateway’ to our campus, but like, how about renovations to the Darte?” junior theater major Erin Reese said. “They won’t even give the Darte a new carpet.”
When asked about these issues, President Leahy cited his administration’s “strategic plan,” which appears to be an agenda that seeks to make more major and minor renovations to the campus and the surrounding area in the next few years in an effort to “help the whole campus.”
“The strategic plan is almost finalized,” Leahy said. “Renovation for engineering labs for the College of Science & Engineering, consolidation into some sort of media center for Communication Studies and renovations to the Darte and the library are all clearly embedded in the strategic plan.”
Leahy voiced genuine concern at the feedback, but said this is only the beginning of the renovations for Wilkes.
“Quickly on the heels of Sidhu are the other projects,” he said. “We’ll be tackling a lot of these at one time.”
Leahy also spoke in defense of the gateway, saying the current alleyway between Bartikowsky and UCOM is “not attractive, not inviting and not safe.”
“[The alleyway] is becoming more and more a major artery through campus,” he said, speaking of the fact that some of the university’s main buildings — UCOM, University Towers and the parking garage — are all located by the alley. “To rely on that alleyway is, in my opinion, unacceptable.”
Leahy said he hopes that the “Southeast Campus Development Project,” which is the official title for the renovations, will “create a very meaningful connection between the heart of our campus and the heart of downtown,” ultimately making S. Main St. a safer and more student-friendly area.
“We will have anchored Wilkes’s presence on that part of South Main,” he said. “We want to continue to be a force of positive economic development in the community in hopes that others will follow suit.”
To learn more about the “strategic plan” or Leahy’s vision over the next few years, readers can go to http://www.wilkes.edu/pages/4207.asp.