Recent administrative decisions salvage hope for university’s sustainability
News | Chris DeWuske
2 Pine Tree Drive
With help from an anonymous investor, Bethel moved forward with the purchase of 2 Pine Tree Drive in December. The investor bought the building for Bethel’s negotiated price and paid down one quarter of the purchase himself.
“In addition to that, he made a gift to Bethel to begin some of the renovation over there,” said Pat Mazorol, senior vice president of university relations. “What we’re going to do is buy the building from him for the same price he paid for it—and we have up to six years to do that.”
Bethel plans to buy the Pine Tree property from the proceeds of selling Fountain Terrace, the Bethel Office Center and the Arden Hills Library acquired two years prior, which, according to Mazorol, have not been used to their maximum effectiveness. The university’s focus is to consolidate its assets between the two campuses, rather than being spread out inefficiently.
Mazorol has been the contact person in the absence of previous senior vice president of finance and administration, Kathleen Nelson. His key role as a contact aided the university with its recent purchase. Bethel is currently searching for a new Cheif Financial Officer. Nelson’s functions have been divided up between Pat Mazorol, Randy Bergen, who leads the budget team, and Joe LaLuzerne, who is in charge of the campus master plan.
Even though the investor currently owns 2 Pine Tree, formerly Country Financial, Bethel owns the master lease. Graduate and adult studies courses that had been previously located at the building on Red Fox Road have since been moved to the Pine Tree building.
“We collect all the rents from the tenants, and we cover all of the maintenance.” Mazorol said. The monies from the tenants will be placed into a fund toward the purchase of the building.
Bethel initially built the physician’s assistant program into 2 Pine Tree, along with CAPS/GS courses being moved there from the Red Fox building. The university plans to keep these classes located at 2 Pine Tree.
Recently re-elected student body president Ashley Ancona weighed in on the matter.
“Splitting up CAS is a scary idea, and I think a lot of us initially think it shouldn’t even be an option,” she said.
However, administration is vigorously examining their options. The university has been tapping into students’ perspective through visioning sessions for the revised campus master plan, touring 2 Pine Tree, and the upcoming town hall meeting. Student feedback from the visioning session is currently helping administration understand how students perceive the future of Bethel in regards to campus program structuring.
According to Ancona, “They’re very much seeking out the students’ perspective, and in every decision they make and every discussion they have it is very clear that they have the students’ best interest in the back of their minds.”
The whole campus master plan was projected to cost $200 million over the course of 15-20 years. Detailed in that plan was a parking ramp with 400 spots in order to accommodate future needs, which would have expended the university double the cost of the Pine Tree purchase.
“We bought the whole Pine Tree with 42 acres, and there’s 777 parking spots.," said Mazorol. "There’s almost twice as many parking spots, and we bought it for about 60 percent of what the parking ramp would have cost. God’s been in this thing in unbelievable ways."
It will cost the university money to move into the new facility and build out the spaces. Once Bethel has settled on the best uses for the building, a capital campaign will be started to support the move-in.
“It’s really to plan the university for the future. What programs do we want next to each other. What programs do we want adjacent to each other?” Mazorol said.
The campus master plan is being looked at to make sure that everything only has to be moved once.
Currently, there is speculation that Bethel Seminary will also be moved to 2 Pine Tree. Ancona said in that event, the focus would be filling the seminary building before building out the new property. Three potential options for seminary include moving the university’s library, housing all of the business offices, and being used as a performing arts center for music and fine arts.
Other rumors involve future meal options on the new campus and the possibility of involving a few chain restaurants.
Bethel is also planning to avoid any massive closings, such as the closing of the seminary in the East and the discontinuation of NYCAMS. Nothing of that scale is currently being assessed by Bethel, and the main focus is on consolidation between what will be the two main campuses in Minnesota.
It’s no secret that the university’s facilities have been lagging behind its competition. However, Ancona believes the recent administrative decisions saved Bethel time and money to catch up.
“I think it’s going to be one of those tipping points for Bethel. I think it’s going to do some great things for us,” said Ancona. “I was not for it in the beginning, but I’m really excited for the types of opportunities it gives Bethel.”
New Bike Trail
Zoning would not allow the university to use the property for educational purposes. However, the city of Arden Hills granted Bethel a conditional use permit. As part of this agreement, Bethel will be required to pitch in for the creation of a bike trail from the west entrance to County Road E and Highway 51, also known as Snelling Avenue.
“The amount we are contributing is up to $800,000,” Mazorol said. “We are paying them over the course of eight years starting two years from now. We’ve built that into the future budget. Potentially that will be part of a capital campaign.”
Actual construction won’t occur until mid-2015 at the earliest. The bike trail is expected to be about a mile in length and will be paved around the same time the Department of Transportation redoes the County Road E bridge.
According to Mazorol, “Discussion started early on with city staff, because both the city and Bethel are concerned that we have a safe pathway between the two campuses.”
For students familiar with the area, they know the dangers of the bridge. While it accommodates pedestrians, cyclists find it difficult to maneuver traffic, especially since the bridge has no shoulder.
“There will be shuttle buses running between the two campuses,” Mazorol added.
The conditional use permit will not expire, and Bethel can have it changed and amended when planning and conditions change.
All information regarding the business aspect of Fountain Terrace’s sale is to be kept confidential with the buyers. No pricing can be released until the apartments have been sold.
In regards to married housing, every existing lease must be honored by the purchaser. According to Mazorol, it is possible that the buyer will keep Fountain Terrace as student housing; however, Bethel will have no control over rent prices. In spite of its “ring by spring” reputation, the university has not seen a growing need for married housing.
Groundbreaking on Health and Wellness Center
Talk about a new fitness center at Bethel has been in the works for several years with no foreseeable actions being taken. Mazorol said, “That is still the capital priority for the campus.”
The health and wellness center will comprise a fitness center for the whole campus, space for biokinetics, health and counseling services and eight general purpose classrooms. Originally, it was planned to be $20 million, coursing a two-phase development. The university needed $10.5 million in order to begin the first phase, which would have only included the fitness center and four classrooms. Currently, Bethel has raised a total of $6.5 million, receiving $2 million this last year.
Ancona said the economic downturn and an arsenal of donors retiring a few years back didn’t help Bethel’s cause. The university has since reached out to a new generation of alumni. She remains optimistic that groundbreaking will occur next year.
“From what I’ve heard,that’s still the very top priority," Ancona said. "They know the fitness facility is something the students want and something the students care about. Also, it’s something that will draw in prospective students.”
“That’s something I’m pushing very hard for,” Ancona added.
With the new property, Bethel is examining the benefits of building the health and wellness center in a single phase and determining whether or not it is possible to build it more cost efficiently than $10.5 million.
“Because of Pine Tree, we have a lot more flexibility on space—not just there, but retrofitting space here. What we’re going to do is go back to the architects and relook at this health and wellness center and see what it would cost to just do a single phase, and do the fitness center—which is critical to us right now for enrollment—just because our competition has new fitness centers,” said Mazorol. “The second thing is the biokinetics space, because that is our fastest growing undergraduate program."
“Those are the two most urgent needs," Mazorol continued. "What if we just built one building that was the fitness center and the biokinetics space? What would that cost us and could we do that for even less than the $10.5 million that we need for phase one? We’ve already raised $6.5million towards that. Rather than having to raise another four, then we would get that fitness center and the biokinetics space built a lot sooner and hopefully get started this year.”
Working towards a more sustainable university, this decision could potentially save Bethel money. The president’s cabinet will be contacting the architects to explore options and begin the process.