Tow Zone: Lack of Campus Parking Leads to Unrest Amongst UMass Amherst Students

In June 2011, The University of Massachusetts Amherst began construction of a new $186.5 million residential and teaching complex directly across from Boyden Athletic Fields in the center of campus to serve its Commonwealth Honors College. The complex will include 600 first-year beds, 900 upper-class beds, nine classrooms, two faculty apartments, four staff apartments, and an Administration and Student Services building.

It plans to open in the fall of 2013, welcoming in 3,000 Honors College students enrolled in 88 majors.

“This new complex will serve as a visible representation of the commitment of this campus to academic excellence and will help attract even more students to the program,” said Dean of Commonwealth Honors College, Priscilla M. Clarkson.

While it will certainly establish itself as one of the best public university complexes of its kind in the nation, Dean Clarkson’s comment brings up an interesting dilemma.

What does this mean for the lack of parking already on campus?

The university is hoping their new construction will attract even more students to the 22,000 undergrad and 6,150 graduate students already attending UMass.  The Honors College has even stated that they plan to increase their own enrollment from 485 this fall, to 600 next year.

This means a lot more students, and a lot less parking.

Parking Services has been under heavy scrutiny from the student body over the three years that I’ve attended this university.  Angered over hefty parking passes and tow fees, a lack of metered spots in key lots, not to mention the wrath of Ernie’s Towing, the new Honors College complex has created an even bigger problem for students with cars.

“I think (parking passes) are a little too much money,” said junior Alina Bahlavouni.  ”Nobody has that much money to  spend especially on parking, so I think that could be reduced.”

Hoping to make more parking available to the student body, the University does have plans to open up more spaces. This summer, Lot 30, at the foot of the hill across from the Physical Plant building, will add about 50 new spaces to a total of about 100, according to a campus spokesman.

However, this plan is nullified by the fact that also this summer, Lot 45, by the transit center on the northwest end of campus, will lose up to 100 spaces to make room for a new transit training course that was next to McGuirk stadium and is being displaced by the nearby construction to the football stadium.

To discourage students even further, UMass will not look to increase parking sooner rather than later, instead opting to open construction on garages and lots much further down the line.

According to a campus spokesman, there are plans but no funding for the old power plant site to become a new extension of the existing Campus Center parking garage. This garage will level the area between the north and south ends of campus and can be the platform for a building on top.

Thinking much longer term, meaning 20 or so years down the road, a master plan calls for the move of all parking lots outside the ring roads on campus. Meaning, Lot 71 would be freed up to be used for buildings, and Lot 32 would be made into a multi-level parking garage. Again, there is no funding in place for this project.

The disservice of lack of parking reaches an even heightened level for students particularly in the winter when campus staff members plow cars into insurmountable snow caves.

“It’s hard to find spots when it snows,” said junior Haley Etskovitz.  “It takes up a third of the parking spots.

Four cars and piles of snow on all sides boxed in Etskovitz’s car during the storm that hit the Amherst area three weeks ago.

While the winter takes the biggest toll on students’ cars, there are a number of other issues that certainly need to be addressed when it comes to parking on campus; first of which are steep pricing.

Here’s a breakdown of parking pass fees available to both undergraduate and graduate students:

Green Lots (25, 26, 27, 33, 34)= $320/Year

Purple Lots (22, 44, 49)= $285/Year

Yellow Lots (11, 12, 13)= $230/Year

Albeit $230 per year may not be the most outrageous thing in the world, the dollars do add up when you consider other fees including gas and the occasional ticket or tow fee, not to mention room and board, and book expenses.

Ernie’s Towing makes at least $150 per towed car, regardless of how far the car is being towed, according to numerous students on campus.  Ernie’s headquarters is located at 40 Montage Road in Amherst, just a 30-second drive from Townehouse Apartment’s located on 50 Meadow Street, where many UMass students reside.  If a 30-second drive from Meadow Street to Montague road costs $150, you can only imagine the cost of a tow all the way from campus would be.

“Ernie’s towing, they’re not my friends,” said senior Pat Holmes.  ”I know a lot of people who have been unrightfully towed in the past, and it’s not right.”

To add, the average in-state tuition at UMass is $23,167, while out-of-state is $36,582, according to it’s website.  When factoring in book expenses that can range anywhere from $500-$1,000 each year, a hefty sum begins to accumulate.  The university has to remember that we are college students, widely considered to be the most cash-stricken time in our lives as adults.  We shouldn’t have to worry about receiving a ticket when parking outside the Whitmore Administration building for five minutes just to run in and grab a quick sandwich.

The University has to do something about parking on campus, and quick, considering the increase in enrollment that is expected to hit next fall.  More specifically, there needs to be an increase in metered parking, as well as more daily parking in general, and this doesn’t mean five-to-twenty years from now.

UMass is expected to have spent roughly $306.5 million by the spring of 2014 on central campus infrastructureHampshire Dining Commonsnew academic classroom buildings, and the Honors College, alone, not to mention the $12.3 million already spent on the Lederle Lab renovations.  The University also has plans to upgrade its Life Science Laboratories, as well as demolishing the old power plant.

If the University is willing to spend close to $320 million on campus infrastructure, it couldn’t hurt to add in an additional lot or two.

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