Commotion over military barracks ","

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For more than one reason the year 1997 is a specialyear in the annals of Utrecht University. It was not only the yearin which the foundation of University College was decided on; andnot only the year in which, for the first time in Dutch history, auniversity bought military barracks; 1997 was first and foremostthe year in which the University Council, the highestrepresentative advisory body within Utrecht University, and theUniversity Board had a fierce and unprecedented difference ofopinion about the costs of the University College project.

The reason for this conflict, which even led to the universitybudget being rejected in first instance, was the unexpectedly highprice to be paid by the university for the Kromhout grounds.Whereasthe University Board had promised the university community severaltimes that buying and furnishing the grounds would cost no morethan 40 million guilders, at the end of 1997 it turned out be be anentirely different story. The much coveted campus could never berealized for less than 70 million guilders.

The difference of about 30 million guilders resulted from arather too optimistic assessment by the University Board, which -on the authority of a hired surveyor - had assumed that the groundscould be bought for next to nothing. To their horror, at the end of1997, it turned out that the Ministry of Finance took a verydifferent view of things and demanded 20 million guilders plusmillions in bonus for a quick clearance of the premises. Anindependent surveyor, who was called in by both parties, soon cameup with a binding advice which involved an even higher amount. So,the University Board, with its tail between its legs, had to begthe University Council for more money. Eventually the money wasprovided, but not before the University Council had sharplyprotested against this rather outrageous error of judgement.

At present the renovation of the Kromhout grounds goes ahead atfull speed and now that the dust clouds are clearing and the timefor evaluation has come, the conclusion must be that the financialdamage is not too bad. As was planned from the beginning, part ofthe grounds will be leased out to a building corporation,'Volksbelang'. This is the part in which the new student flats arebeing built, as well as the former barracks which will be convertedto housing accommodation. Because the contract with Volksbelanginvolves 11.7 million guilders, the University's ultimateinvestment in the purchase and furnishing ofthe Kromhout groundswill come to about 60 million guilders (it should be noted thatplans for the renovation of other buildings on the premises, amongothers for an annex of Parnassos, the cultural centre, and for anInternational Guesthouse, are in a far advanced stage).

"A bargain," concludes University College Dean, Professor HansAdriaansens, who still does not understand what all the commotionabout the controversial 70 million was all about. "From the start Isaid that the ultimate costs would be less and that turns out to bethe case now. Of course, 60 million is still a large amount ofmoney, but look at what the University gets in return. That moneymakes us the owners of a beautiful block of buildings situated atan absolute first class location in the city. Compared to the morethan 50 million the Educatorium in the Uithof cost, this is reallyquite a bargain, isn't it?"

Erik Hardeman