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Secrets Lurk Behind Uni Buildings

Alexi Polden on everything you wanted to know about sex USyd buildings but were too afraid to ask.

Cartoon that shows student being impaled by shattered glass, in final frame says "Good thing these guys taught me how to win cases". Comic by Michael Lotsaris.
Cartoon that shows student being impaled by shattered glass, in final frame says "Good thing these guys taught me how to win cases".
Comic by Michael Lotsaris.

Spence is going to be here HOW LONG?

Hot on the lips of university middle management is the pending construction of a new admin building. The building, to be built just off City Road, is set to house a whole range of admin functions that have until now been spread awkwardly across campus.

Perhaps most interesting is Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence’s involvement in planning the building, which is set to include new quarters for the VC. One wonders if Spence is designing the office with himself in mind. Spence’s current term ends in mid 2018, the building is set to be complete in late 2017 or early 2018 (provided a contractor doesn’t accidentally start a fire, as they did in the new business school). His involvement suggests he may expect to be around for a third term. A little birdy told me that Spence’s 2013 appointment was hardly a shoe-in; one wonders whether Spence’s dreams will be dashed and he’ll end up outside the tent pissing in.

The building is also set to house the Chancellor, Vice Principal Operations, Alumni and Development, DVC Research, DVC Registrar, DVC Education, DVC Indigenous Strategy and Services, HR, part of Marketing and Communications, Office of General Counsel, Senate Secretariat, Enterprise Project Management Office, and the Office of Global Engagement (try saying all of that 30 times over). Though the price has not been finalised, the tender has been set at around $70 million.

The uni didn’t say how much of that $70 mil would be raised by selling cigarettes to children in Indonesia.

Stones, glass houses

Honi understands that the building—the VC’s office in particular—will be something of a fishtank, with glass walls looking down on colleagues/staff/students/customers below. I asked the very nice Director of Campus Infrastructure and services, Greg Robinson, about that point. He said that “the design of the building aims to reflect Leadership, Transparency, Accessibility, and to showcase the best of what we do in research and education.”

I don’t want to have too much of a dig at the design, but just for a second picture walking down Eastern Ave and seeing Spence working several floors above. Jesus…

I know another glass building on campus…

All this talk of glass and accessibility may bring the ill-fated new law school to mind. The building opened to much acclaim in 2009, and has won a raft of awards since then.

It’s also shit. It’s been ringed by temporary fencing for the past year, making it both very ugly and very annoying to get around.

I assumed this was to prevent one of the oft-shattered glass panels falling and impaling someone, like something out of a half-arsed problem question in a law exam. I asked the uni about this and they reassured me that the glass was structurally sound and would not fall, which I’m sure is a relief for the academics working in rooms with plywood windows.

The real reason for the fencing, according to Robinson, was actually “the potential for the soffit under the building to fail after a piece fell earlier in the year”. A falling soffit could presumably still be fatal, so problem question writers need not fear. Robinson said the fence would remain until the soffit was inspected, which begs the question why it hasn’t been done yet. In short, we should expect the fence to remain for what, in his words “could be for an extended period of time.”

He wouldn’t tell me who’s footing the bill.

But wait, there’s more…?

The glass isn’t the only shoddy part of the law school. Most of it leaks—it’s got so bad in the library that the uni’s OH&S people have ordered that the reading room be closed whenever it rains.

I asked Robinson about the leaks (though, admittedly not specifically about the reading room). He said that “these items of backlog maintenance are prioritised along with all the items across our 700 buildings and are attended to in priority order with first priority around safety and comfort of our staff and students”. Which is to say they probably won’t be fixed for an extended period of time.

Once bitten, twice shy.

I asked if the law school lemon had changed the university’s approach to building projects, Robinson told me that “Lessons learnt is a core part of the work that we do in CIS and certainly the method of contracting that was used to build the building is no longer used by the University.” Which is a relief.

More satisfying is the fact that the company that build the law school, Baulderstone, has ceased operating and has been absorbed by Lend Lease (who Robinson insists the University has a very good relationship with).

So while the law school may be a little shit, at least we have a schadenfreude happy ending.