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Maintaining Pauley Pavilion

Major improvements to the facility's infrastructure are necessary, and construction costs are coming down. It's time to cheer for the upgrades.

April 19, 2010|By Gene Block

Pauley Pavilion is much more than a basketball arena. It is at the center of many activities on UCLA's campus, bringing students together at key moments in their college experience, from freshman welcome to commencement. It's where students come to participate in intramural sports and other recreational activities, but also to be inspired by presidents and entertained by cultural icons. Symbolic of Pauley's access to all is the fact that it's not managed by the athletics department but rather by UCLA Recreation, a department of student affairs.

"Going to college" is more than just going to classes. Much of the learning occurs in the places where students encounter and interact with one another daily -- on the quads, in the dorm rooms and, yes, in the bleachers.

The venerable pavilion is 45 years old and in need of major upgrades, from evening out the steps and creating wider pedestrian concourses to major seismic and life-safety improvements. Two independent engineering consultants have told us that the mechanical engineering and plumbing systems have outlived their usefulness.

And our outstanding student-athletes who compete against the country's best intercollegiate athletic teams deserve modern locker rooms and training facilities.

The campus community and the public, rightfully, would have taken us to task had we not moved forward with a responsible plan to preserve and improve Pauley. After a bidding process that saw significant savings in the project's cost -- a result of the economic crisis -- a formal groundbreaking has been scheduled for May 11. Unfortunately, progress on this important project has been hampered by public discourse mired in mischaracterizations of some of the details.

Much of the heated rhetoric and confusion stems from the use of student-generated revenue among the funding sources. Project plans approved by the UC Board of Regents in July 2009 called for a variety of funding sources for what was then an estimated $185-million project. They included $100 million from private gifts; $60 million in long-term debt backed by athletics ticket revenue; $15 million in revenue from a referendum approved by student voters in 2000 to be used exclusively to fund improvements to student facilities; and $10 million from the fees UCLA students pay to help fund earthquake and life-safety upgrades to student facilities.

At very early stages, some had envisioned a more cosmetic renovation that could be funded entirely by private gifts. But feasibility studies later showed that Pauley required major improvements to its infrastructure, and the two fees paid by UCLA students were identified as appropriate funding sources to supplement the largest funding source -- private gifts.

With construction costs down, the current estimated project cost is nearly $136 million, a savings of almost $50 million. Because of this, we took the opportunity to eliminate the $15 million provided by the student referendum fees. This will enable students to identify improvements to other facilities. We've raised more than $64 million in gifts and pledges from our private donors, and we're confident of reaching our $100-million goal.

Any project of this size and scope is naturally going to draw some criticism. But we've heard no one disagree that Pauley needs this crucial work. Every homeowner knows that maintenance deferred is maintenance inflated. When our iconic treasures need to be fixed, they need to be fixed. A university is more than its buildings, but it also is not a campground. People sitting in Pauley should not expect to endure splinters in their shins, as one Bruin fan recounted for the Los Angeles Times. Nor should they have to worry about its structural integrity.

Anyone who has ever experienced the student section at a Bruin basketball game in Pauley Pavilion knows that it is a place where students from all over California and the world can, for a rousing hour or two, become one. And that is no small matter.

Gene Block is chancellor of UCLA.

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