Thursday, July 8, 2004

The head of the D.C. Council education committee said “heads should roll” in the University of the District of Columbia’s executive offices if the dilapidated campus is not improved by September.

“If school starts and they haven’t made the improvements, clearly heads should roll,” said council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation.

His comment came in response to council member Adrian M. Fenty’s call for stricter oversight of UDC’s budget and closer monitoring of the school’s maintenance contracts.

Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, also criticized university administrators for allowing the campus to remain in disrepair nearly a year after he admonished them for ignoring maintenance problems.

“I was there about two weeks ago and it looked as terrible as ever,” said Mr. Fenty, a member of the education committee. “I just don’t think the repairs and improvements are being made fast enough.”

Mr. Chavous agreed with Mr. Fenty’s assessment but said the committee already has begun to increase pressure on UDC officials to fix the problems.

“The big issue is making sure they stick with their [capital improvement] plan,” he said.

UDC President William L. Pollard and his spokesman, Mike Andrews, declined to comment on Mr. Chavous’ remark.

However, Mr. Andrews said Mr. Fenty fails to appreciate how long it takes to design, bid and contract a capital project.

“He’s got to understand if things are identified [as needing repair], we have to get contractors to do it,” Mr. Andrews said. “They are not our people. We do not have a lot of control over their schedules.”

Mr. Fenty toured UDC’s campus in August after The Washington Times reported about the dilapidated condition of the District’s only public university. He found dozens of maintenance problems, including crumbling concrete stairs, broken elevators, rotted ceiling tiles and threadbare carpets.

Since then, Mr. Pollard has directed the cleanup of some of the most striking examples of decay at the land-grant university. The school has spent $2.9 million to renovate the campus’ elevators and escalators and $341,000 to replace worn-out carpets in the Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics.

But Mr. Fenty said much more still needs to be done. At UDC’s Learning Resource Center and Arts and Sciences Departments, he has found dirty conditions, faded paint and frayed carpets.

“It hadn’t been cared for in years, certainly not in the past year,” he said. “I think it sends a huge signal when you have education classrooms that look like they are not cared for.”

Persistent maintenance problems compound long-standing troubles at UDC, which has endured financial mismanagement, poor academic performance and accreditation concerns in the past decade.

Mr. Fenty said Mr. Pollard inherited many of the school’s problems when he took the top job at UDC in July 2002, but that it appears little would have changed without intervention.

“Let’s get the walls painted. Let’s keep the buildings clean and make it nice for our students,” Mr. Fenty said. “These are not expensive things.”

Mr. Chavous concurred. “I think a lot of those complaints are legitimate.”

The university’s capital budget has declined from $14.1 million in fiscal 2002 to $6.9 million in fiscal 2003 and $4.8 million in fiscal 2004, which ends Sept. 30.

The school’s six-year capital budget through fiscal 2004 is $78.3 million, of which $26.8 million has not been spent, the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer said.

Some students and faculty members praised Mr. Pollard for elevator repairs and carpet replacement in the business school.

“They have [the elevators] running good now and looking nicer,” said Ambrosia Fowler, a 23-year-old junior majoring in early childhood development.

Joseph Krebs Jr., an accounting professor and one of Mr. Pollard’s frequent critics, said he was impressed by the new wall-to-wall carpet. He credited Mr. Fenty with applying the political pressure to get the work accomplished.

“It’s nice,” Mr. Krebs said. “I do see some money coming in.”

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