Spaced out: New visitor parking lot causes campus controversy
Senior leadership decided this summer to convert the Hitch and Massey Performing Arts Center parking lot on 17th Avenue into a visitors-only lot this summer–thus closing its 43 spots to the students and faculty the lot once served.
And many of them are not happy about it.
“It’s a slap in the face to staff in particular,” said art professor Jim Meaders.
Meaders teaches in the Leu Center for Visual Arts, one of the buildings affected by this decision; the others include the MPAC, the Wilson Music Building and the Lila D Bunch Library.
“Staff and faculty should be able to park close to where they work,” he said.
A common complaint voiced by Meaders and shared by students in both the music and art departments–some of whom declined to go on the record–was that their majors require them to lug large amounts of equipment for class and rehearsals.
Now the distance they must walk has increased considerably.
“It’s torture,” said Rick Beresford, adjunct professor of songwriting. “I have to walk a quarter mile in the rain sometimes. It’s ridiculous. Let the visitors park in the garages. I just don’t get it.”
In comparison, teachers in the WAC and Johnson Center, for example, can park directly underneath where they teach, he said.
“Every building has their own parking lot,” he said. “But the visual arts? They have nothing.”
Another difficulty expressed by students and staff was the inconvenience of simply trying to find a parking spot in the already-congested 17th Avenue area.
Samantha Harms, a senior commercial voice major, took that complaint and broadened its scope.
“When we have athletic events, the Curb is blocked off, and we can’t park off-campus, and then they took away one of our only parking lots. If we do, they give us a $100 ticket for the first time and I just want to know why,” she said.
Vice President for Administration and University Counsel Jason Rogers oversaw the decision- making process and said senior leadership converted the lot as “an effort to accommodate the high demand of prospective students and parents.”
The lot will primarily be used for peak admissions days. Its proximity to both Freeman Hall and the campus bookstore made it an appealing spot, Rogers said.
Administration made a similar decision recently when it closed the parking lot near Freeman and Fidelity Halls to faculty and staff, too.
As Belmont’s student body grows year after year, so does the number of guests it must accommodate. The facts and figures associated with this trend, along with additional information about parking, can be seen in a chart below.
The smallness of Belmont’s campus and the decreasing number of people using its 17th Avenue sector both contributed to senior leadership’s rationale in making the decision, Rogers said.
“No one is going to be unable to park within a 5-minute walk of their workplace,” he said.
And while both of those reasons may hold up, the commercial music major contains 405 students. This makes it the fourth-largest major on campus, according to the Office of Assessment and Institutional Research.
And the majority of those students are housed in both MPAC and Wilson.
“We’re one of the largest schools at Belmont, and they took away our only parking lot, which was too small to begin with,” said Ashleigh Harms, another senior commercial voice major.
Although senior leadership has not formally received any of these complaints, it would be open to pursuing creative options which would result in a win-win situation for all involved if that were to happen, Rogers said.
He also maintained that it is important to keep perspective, comparing the current parking situation to how it was a decade ago.
Then, the university operated at capacity most days of the week, which meant students had to be shuttled from places as distant as Greer Stadium and the Wedgewood Fairgrounds, he said.
“It’s easy to miss the convenience of having a parking lot right outside the building where you work,” he said. “But what’s available is not inconvenient–it may just be less convenient.”
“There are hundreds and hundreds of parking spaces very conveniently located in the garages for the use of the campus community,” said Rogers. “I think it’s really safe to say we don’t have a parking problem.
Regardless, the decision has left the students and faculty there feeling slighted.
“We’re the stepchildren of Belmont,” Samantha Harms said.
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