Students speak out against Lagoon construction plan

Janette Neuwahl

Students challenged on Wednesday administrators’ decision to fill in part of the Lagoon, a choice forged during two years of closed-door deliberations.

Four acres of the 19-acre Lagoon north of Norris University Center will be paved over starting March 1 for a parking lot and space for four or five buildings, administrators announced Tuesday.

“Maybe they need more buildings, but they also need happy students,” said Matthew Perez-Stable, a Weinberg junior. “The administration can’t win by not asking students, and it would’ve been in their best interest to at least gauge student interest.”

Administrators said students aren’t normally included in deliberations about construction projects, but said students offered a “valid” critique.

“Maybe it’s legitimate to criticize us for not having more input,” said Eugene Sunshine, vice president for business and finance. “I don’t know. I don’t regard it as really any different than any of the other (building) activities. I’m willing to acknowledge that people might feel differently about that.”

When the pressure of midterms and activities builds up, Perez-Stable said he relaxes by strolling along the Lakefill. He said he is upset that rumbling dump trucks carrying sand and clay will take over the one place on campus where he can escape an urban setting.

“That’s the worst thing they could do to the most beautiful part of campus,” Perez-Stable said.

But administrators defended the decision, saying aesthetic damage will be minimal.

“This is 20 percent of the Lagoon, meaning that 80 percent of the Lagoon is still going to be there,” Sunshine said. “We’re not going to be using the site for who knows how long. During that period of time half of it will be used for parking, and we will landscape that attractively. The other half is two acres, and that’s going to be additional open space.”

Citing administrators’ failure to seek student input, Associated Student Government President Jordan Heinz hopes to hold a forum Tuesday for them to explain their rationale behind filling in part of the Lagoon.

“Students are upset and need to know the true story from the words of administrators,” Heinz said. “The administration owes this to the students.”

Heinz said the sudden announcement is not surprising because of administrators’ history of poor communication with students. Heinz also told ASG senators at Wednesday’s meeting that he heard about possible plans to build on the Lagoon a year and a half ago.

“I think administrators have to prepare themselves for student backlash,” Heinz said. “This is not a way to work with students, and maybe the circumstances warrant that, but students here are never involved in long-range campus planning decisions and that’s my only criticism of the Board of Trustees, (Vice President for Facilities Management) Ron Nayler and Eugene Sunshine.”

Filling in the Lagoon also could disturb the area’s wildlife, said McCormick junior Josh Anon, who said he spends part of every day photographing animals on the Lakefill.

“That area is where a lot of animals live and they’re killing those animals to put in green space and a parking lot,” Anon said. “I’m wondering why they feel they have a right to take away their home.”

John Hudson, director of NU’s Environmental Sciences program, said filling in the Lagoon will not be a large problem for animals living there.

“Students are losing a really peaceful place on campus,” Anon said. “There’s a lot of life at Northwestern. Without it there’s concrete, a blade of grass and a squirrel.”