In Master Plan, equine program faces relocation

Upset students prepare for Tuesday forum

On April 13, 2012

Students have taken to social media sites in an effort to raise awareness and gather support against some of the proposed changes that will be delivered at Tuesday's Campus Master Plan Update Forum.

The issue of the equine program and university land use is at the center of what is expected to be a highly-debated forum on Tuesday, though a new center for the arts and graduate/family housing is also a part of the to-be-discussed master plan.

Paul Chamberlin, assistant vice president for energy and campus development, said while the master plan includes moving the equine program and possibly leasing the land, it would not eliminate any programs and the dairy barns would not be relocated.

"The new reality for public higher education is that we're going to have to figure out how to survive with little state support," he said. "So it's forcing us to look at some things that we may not have had to look at in the past. We're pushing the boundaries a little bit, but we need to do that. "

Chamberlin said that the master plan, which has been reviewed by President Mark Huddleston and his board of trustees, could use the land opened up from the possible relocation of the equine program for a number of uses ranging from student housing to private partnership to leasing for commercial development.

Critics of the plan say the issue they are upset with is that the plan would cut more agricultural land.

"UNH was established as an agricultural university and is a land-grant university," Kristin Bruce, a junior equine science major, said. "Because of that, we should be preserving our agriculture. If we build on that land, it's never going to get turned into farmland again."

In response to the plan, a Facebook event titled "The FINAL Open Forum on the UNH Master Plan of Beautiful Farmland Destruction" was created and had 300 "going" out of 2,000 invited as of Thursday night.

In addition, an online petition for those who "agree that the land should be preserved for agricultural research and education," was created. As of Thursday evening it had 600 online signatures.

Bruce said that proponents of the plan are trying to save money, but aren't taking into account the effect it will have on the program.

Loving the program would mean a loss of hay fields and force the equine program to purchase "significantly more" hay.

"That change in our budget would make it impossible to sustain our program," Sarah Hamilton, the director of the equine program, wrote on the program's Facebook page.

Burke said one of the big reasons that she and others in the program decided to come to UNH was because of the location of the barn. If that moved, she said, it would be tougher to recruit new members, and to continue the volunteer program that is currently in place.

Burke said that many students are able to volunteer in a therapeutic riding program because of how close the barn is relative to the rest of campus. Students, she said, are able to give an hour or two of their time in between classes, but if the program were stationed farther away, students wouldn't be able to do that.

"That's a huge draw for the university," Burke said. "We have students come from across the region because the barn is so close and they can bring their horses."

In a press release, student activist Alex Freid writes that students have expressed confusion and anger toward the plan.

"Students appear to be frustrated with the lack of awareness about these events as well as the lack of transparency on the Campus Master Plan website," he writes. "Many students are fearful of the fact that while these events are a step in the right direction to seeking student input and involvement, they are also appearing very late in the planning and decision-making process."

While Chamberlin conceded that he could have done better to explain why the changes were being made, he said discussions of this nature have existed since 1994, and that all involved parties have been well aware of the possibility.

Chamberlin said that there has been confusion about the plan. He received several phone calls and emails from people who thought that the program might be cut. He said that has not ever been on the table.

"I think there is misinformation that we were talking about moving the program to one of the farms out there," Chamberlin said. "We're talking about moving the program a little farther from campus. If and when we actually move the equine program, it will be no father than the dairy farms."

Burke said that she and her classmates understand that the program is not in jeopardy in the short term, but that the proposed move would go a long way in risking the future of the program.

"If they get rid of farmland, they're one step closer toward getting rid of it entirely," Burke said. "There is a history of removing agriculture here. We used to have sheep, pigs and poultry. We're down to just cows and horses now."

Chamberlin said that the university is not looking to sell the land that would be opened if the equine program were relocated. He said he would consider a number of options, but because they wanted to "preserve our options," they wouldn't be open to selling the land.

According to the campus master plan's website, the forum will also discuss a new location for the center for the arts. According to the plan, four on-campus sites have been chosen from an initial 12. The locations may displace parking and student housing.

The last part of the plan deals with graduate and family housing. Eleven sites were evaluated as places for possible expansion catering to graduate students. The most desirable locations are near B-Lot, providing easy access to the downtown shopping plaza.

Master plan updates are typically held once every 10 years. According to Chamberlin, the last one was held in 2004 when the current plan was adopted.

"I'm looking forward to the Tuesday discussion," Chamberlin said. "We as a community need to collectively make the best decisions we can."

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