Extreme Makeover: Law School Edition

That’s the title of the the Daily Business Review article on plans for our new addition to the law school, and a makeover of much of the existing structure.

It’s a long article, including a lot of history of various rejected proposals, one of which was a brand new building on a prime site near the Metrorail that would have cost well over $100 million which we don’t have to spend. (But if you’d like to spend it for us, I suspect they’d name the law school after you.)

Here’s what the article says about plans for the next phase:

[Dean] White is planning a major overhaul of the current building, including adding more communal space for students, adding and redoing classrooms and outfitting them with state-of-the-art technology, adding a brand new courtroom for mock trials and opening a new cafe to cater to the whole school. White does not yet have a cost estimate for the remodel but has already hired top New York architectural firm Kohn Pederson Fox Associate to draw up plans. She plans to show the designs to the university’s board of trustees in September when she presents the proposal for a vote.

If approved by the board, which is expected, White estimates the renovations would take 18 months to complete, Current facilities would remain open during construction.

“We are deeply engaged in the preliminary stages of working with architects and will be making a proposal to the trustees in September,” White said. “The plans are fairly far along. The building will be an addition to a major renovation to the site of our current building.”

We’re certainly tight for space, and key parts of the physical plant are getting long in the tooth, so extension and renovation are good things — or will be when they’re over. As I’m currently experiencing remodeling of my floor of the law school (and repainting and re-carpeting of my office) — which means I can’t work there this summer — I suspect the process of getting to the finish line will be fraught.

Current facilities would remain open during construction. Sounds noisy.

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2 Responses to Extreme Makeover: Law School Edition

  1. S.E. says:

    Frankly, there is no reason for the Law School to be on the main campus at all. From a logistical (development-wise), practical, and networking perspective the Law, Business, and Medical Schools should all be downtown – close to the legal, business, and healthcare centers of Miami. UM should be following the NYU/Chicago/BU model, not continuously trying to fit expansion plans into a location that no longer can support many of the graduate programs’ needs.

    The recent collapse of the commercial real estate market would have been an excellent time for a truly visionary, forward-thinking, and cash-rich university to seize a relocation opportunity more conducive to its current needs and future aspirations. Unfortunately, the Law School was busy transitioning a new dean and President Shalala’s vision is largely confined to the Medical School. Oh well, I guess a fresh coat of paint and some new furniture will have to do. I’m sure this will be the 77th best refurbishment in the entire country.

    • What you are saying sounds so plausible that I imagine many people think it must be so. Believe me, we studied this one very thoroughly because it sounded like it might in fact be a good idea. There is value to being near courts and law offices.

      But it turns out that there are a ton of reasons why going downtown doesn’t work for us.

      I don’t even remember them all, but here are some of the leaders, in no particular order:

      • You can’t just move into an office building. You need a purpose-built structure or major renovations to make classroom space (tiered seating) and to take the weight of a library.

      • Vertical law schools have a lot of trouble. Everyone gets out of class, or wants to go to class, at the same time. Normal elevators are not up to the job; putting in more is costly and wasteful. (The vertical law school issue was one of the biggest issues — there are very very few places that have pulled this off successfully. It’s not impossible but it is costly and difficult.)

      • Parking. Students and staff need a lot of parking. Mass transit in Miami is very poor. Most sites are not near enough to the Metro, which doesn’t run that often, and the people mover is not up to the sort of peak load we would have put on it if we were near one of its stops.

      • Law offices are increasingly moving out of downtown and into areas like Coral Gables. This is especially true of the medium size firms.

      • Traffic. Getting to downtown would have added a lot of transit time for students if they were driving.

      • Infrastructure. Being on campus means our students get convenient use of the campus dining facilities, gym, healthcare, daycare, etc. Attempting to replicate this downtown — necessary for student well-being and also for competitiveness with other law schools — destroyed what was left of the economic feasibility of the idea.

      • Common area. We think the bricks is an important part of the life of the law school. How do you replicate/replace that downtown? It takes a lot of square feet…

      • Cross-listed courses. Our push has been to encourage our students to take more joint degrees and courses (especially foreign language) in other departments. Physical separation would make that much harder.

      • Cost. There were even some people who might have been prepared to offer to give us some free space to anchor their buildings. But it wasn’t anywhere near enough square feet to make the place work when you figured in all the things you would have to have such as parking and elevators.

      • Looks. To defray the much higher cost of being downtown would create pressure for mixed-use — ie shops on the ground floor. We didn’t want to be a law school above a pawnshop — or even a CVS or a department store.

      • Recruitment One thing we hear is that the campus is a big draw for recruiting students. Certainly students who see it are much more likely to matriculate than those who do not (which may or may not prove much, since arguably the ones who visit are likely more serious about coming here in the first place.) We worried we’d lose something if we were another urban law school.

      By the time the committee studying the plan was done with the economics of it, no one who looked at the numbers could say it was a good idea, even those who would have loved to move.

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