Mikhail Kudilinsky, Vice-Rector for Economic Development of St Petersburg University, tells us how the Rector refused the money for construction work, why the dean of the Faculty of Management was reprimanded, and how many criminal and administrative law provisions were violated, as well as why the new campus of St Petersburg University has become a unique project on the national scale and when new halls of residence will appear on the territory of the Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus.
Interviewer: The new St Petersburg University Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus has just completed its first semester. For many university students and teachers, the opening of the new campus was an important event. Today, over a thousand students specialising in management study here; the campus also hosts university events of key importance. And this is just the beginning: after completing work on the first start-up facility, the university continues the construction work. How difficult was it to turn the first stage of the project into reality? What are the plans for further development of the campus in the years ahead?
Mikhail Kudilinsky: Creation of the new Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus is a serious experience of building a university campus that is unique for Russia. The construction of the first start-up facility, which included the Main Academic Building (19,261.7 square metres), a multifunctional student centre (4,809.7 square metres) and the general services building (3,996.2 square metres) was completed in 2014. In 2015, these facilities were put into service. And in the first semester of the 2015-2016 academic year, students began to have classes here, a number of significant academic events took place, as well as events with participation of eminent St Petersburg University graduates, prominent politicians, and partners of the University (see Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the new St Petersburg University Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus and talked to students); the undergraduate Open Day was held on 6 February 2016 (see Finding your vocation: St Petersburg University holds the undergraduate Open Day), while on 13 February 2016 the campus hosted the first university Reunion (see The Reunion: Reuniting in the name of progress). The facilities of the new campus are open not only for students of the management programme. It was created for all students of the university and is now a rightful part of our large, vibrant and open university.
I would like to make the following point: the Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus is one of the first “smart” university campuses in our country. Here we use sophisticated IT infrastructure for the purposes of education and research (Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus). Classrooms are equipped with cutting-edge interactive and multimedia systems, and other facilities, such as video conferencing, document cameras, interactive whiteboards, and systems controlling lighting, acoustics, internal environment, grounding and multimedia equipment in the classroom from a single control desk. In addition, the Main Academic Building is equipped with an electronic scheduling and classroom booking system that helps to book a classroom for group work. This provides our students and teachers with an opportunity to give lectures and practical classes with the participation of leading experts from all over the world.
For this to become a reality, the university had to put in a lot of effort. We took a number of measures aimed at optimising the project design in order to achieve maximum efficiency. As a result, we were able to launch the first start-up facility (which included the Main Academic Building, a multifunctional student centre and the general services building of the campus) within a short time and to save a substantial amount of the committed budget funds – 2.7 billion roubles. This fact was directly mentioned in a regulation of the Russian Government (RF Government Regulation No 1150 from 03 November 2014 “On allocation of federal budget funds for capital expenditure on reconstruction and construction of the capital construction project ‘Reconstruction (repurposing) of the palace and park grounds of Mikhailovskaya Dacha and construction of facilities to house the business school – the Graduate School of Management of the Federal State Educational Institution of Higher Professional Education ‘St Petersburg State University’”).
I.: Was the reduction of construction costs dictated by the current economic situation?
M.K.: Not at all. Rational, efficient use of all resources (facilities, equipment, consumables) is a general rule that has been since 2008 applied for project management at St Petersburg University. On the University website, you can find the information on how things were put right with regard to the use of premises which the University had rented out: by 2012, the area of premises rented out before 2008 had been reduced by half, while the rental income had nearly tripled (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 04 June 2012, clause 3.2). Another example: the University administration successfully dealt with irregularities in distribution of places in halls of residence. Over the past six years, we have been consistently evicting people living illegally in the university residence halls. As of today, we have evicted more than a thousand illegal tenants (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 02 April 2012, clause 3); these newly vacant places allowed us to create over a hundred employer-rented flats and renovate student quarters. By putting University accounting procedures in order, the administration succeeded in returning to the University budget over 298 million roubles of taxes and levies for 2008-2010, which had been previously overpaid (!) to the federal budget in the period from 2004 to 2006. The returned funds were used to increase the salaries of St Petersburg University academic staff. We could have returned even more, but all earlier accounting records had somehow burned up (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 22 June 2015, clause 7; Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 11 April 2011, clause 6). Examples are numerous, and taking under control the redevelopment of the Mikhailovskaya Dacha estate is one of them.
Here is how it all started. In 2007, all relevant departments agreed upon the RF Government Regulation “On implementation of the development, renovation (repurposing) of the palace and park grounds of ‘Mikhailovskaya Dacha’ in 2007-2010 and construction of facilities to house the business school – the Graduate School of Management of the Federal State Educational Institution of Higher Professional Education ‘St Petersburg State University’” (On implementation of the development, renovation (repurposing) of the palace and park grounds of ‘Mikhailovskaya Dacha’ in 2007-2010 and construction of facilities to house the Graduate School of Management of St Petersburg State University). The Regulation provided for 8.050 billion roubles to be allocated for this purpose. Why did the authors of the government regulation decide exactly on this figure of 8.050 billion roubles, and not, for example, on six or seven billion? Where did they get this figure of 8.050 billion roubles from? When the government regulation was issued, not only did we not have a construction plan, but it was not known how many buildings and what kind of buildings would be constructed! But even in that highly unusual situation, the university administration could have found a good solution. Some of the allocated funds should have been used to develop the project for the renovation of old buildings and the construction of new ones, and to undergo the expert review with the relevant government authority. As a result, the cost of every single building and the entire construction project cost could have been determined. And only after that they should have started the construction work; however, even that decision was not easy to implement. You can finance any reconstruction project and build whatever you want and wherever you want if you finance construction with your own money. The budget money could only be used to fund the development of the project for the reconstruction of the destroyed buildings (the Palace of Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich, the Stables, the Kitchen Building, the Chamberlain’s Building, the series of greenhouses and the Gardener’s House) located on the territory of the Mikhailovskaya Dacha estate; however, spending the money on developing the project for building new facilities (the concert hall, the multipurpose centre, and the halls of residence) in the park area was impossible, since St Petersburg legislation in effect at the time prohibited any new construction there (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 25 November 2013, clause 4). This prohibition was completely ignored by our good-for-nothing administrators. In addition to changes that needed to be introduced in the law “On public landscaped areas”, it was necessary - even before financing the work on the new construction project - to try to amend the relevant city development plans. This prohibition, however, was also ignored.
The required amendments were introduced into St Petersburg legislation only in 2008, that is, two years after the start of the project. Therefore, until 2008, the design and construction work had been carried out illegally. This means that the allocated budget funds had been spent illegally! In 2008, the new administration of the University even had to give up almost ten million dollars allocated for these purposes from the Russian Federation budget, since in the absence of the government expert review it was impossible to legitimately spend the money on campus construction (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 27 January 2014 (with Addendum from 13 February 2015), clause 2). This refusal to take the money was like a seismic shock: “Such things just do not happen in Russia. The University is offered a huge amount of money and this money is refused?”
It was also possible to choose a different option. As early as at the start of 2006, the University administration received a tempting offer: the Administrative Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation was ready to take up the management of the entire construction project. The University was, in this case, supposed to act as the construction project owner who would determine what exactly was to be built. Unfortunately, this proposal was not approved by the University administration. The Dean of the Faculty of Management and the Vice-Rector for Administrative and Economic Affairs were also completely against it. Citing the proven experience of previous construction woks in St Petersburg University (repairs of the roof of the University main building, the renovation of the former building of the St Petersburg University Research Institute of Physics (NIFI) to house the University Library, the renovation of the Bobrinsky Palace, major repairs of the University halls of residence), the former administration of the University insisted that all those multibillion-rouble funds should be entrusted to the University administration for conducting construction work independently.
By the way, quite soon it became abundantly clear how exactly “successful” these previous St Petersburg University construction projects had been. Here are a few facts. In the case of the roof repairs of the University main building, misappropriation of over 1.5 million dollars (out of slightly over three million dollars appropriated for the project) was proved in court; the Vice-Rector for Administrative and Economic Affairs, the chief engineer, the chief accountant and some other employees of St Petersburg University, as well as director of OOO “Stroitelnoye Delo – SG” company were convicted. Misappropriation of almost 1.5 million dollars out of 8.5 million dollars appropriated for the renovation of the former NIFI building to convert it into the St Petersburg University library was proved in court. S.A. Kalinin, the general director of OOO “RSP Balvik” company, together with B.V. Balanov, the chief engineer and the actual head of OOO “RSP Balvik”, , who entered into a criminal conspiracy with V.N. Sobolev and V.A. Sakhnovsky, at different times heading the St Petersburg University directorate for building construction, were convicted (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 19 March 2012, clause 9). In accordance with the Act issued by the Federal Environmental, Industrial and Nuclear Supervision Service (Rostekhnadzor) in 2011, a significant number of violations were detected in the earlier works on the renovation of the Bobrinsky Palace to house the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences: they failed to comply with fire safety requirements, environmental protection standards, and standards of sanitary and epidemiological welfare of the population; such faults as welding defects and cracks in the walls and ceilings were also detected (see The Bobrinsky Palace is ready to receive students; A scandal at St Petersburg University: Serious financial violations exposed, Fontanka.Ru, 04/10/2006; A Vice-Rector of St Petersburg University receives an eight-year suspended sentence, Fontanka.Ru, 15/12/2008; Builders convicted for embezzlement at St Petersburg University, Fontanka.Ru, 15/02/2011; Chief engineer of St Petersburg University accused of embezzling 38 million of budget money, Fontanka.Ru, 09/08/2010). To the present day it remains unknown why no criminal case was ever initiated.
In any event, the University Administration succeeded in obtaining the right to manage the entire construction project independently. And so it began... They should have obtained the introduction of changes into the city development plan and the law of St Petersburg “On public landscaped areas”, and only then should they have commissioned a construction project design. But no, this was not what they did. In the very first year, the allocated funds were used to finance both the work on the project design and the work on the lot, as well as the cleaning and landscaping of ponds, which was subsequently (and rightfully) qualified by the Federal Service for Fiscal and Budgetary Supervision as a violation of fiscal legislation. In 2007, while the construction project design was still not ready, a tendering procedure for the construction work was undertaken (a flagrant violation of all possible rules!). At this point, by the way, not only the design project was absent; even the building programme had not yet been developed. Under such circumstances, the tendering procedure should never have been started! But the tender was undertaken, and the Vice-Rector for Economic and Social Development signed the contract with the winner. It was only a few months after the completion of the tender and the signing of the contract that there finally appeared the technical design assignment approved by the Federal Education Agency, in which the range and scope of work required from the construction firm differed significantly (and to the higher side) from the targets set by the public contract already signed (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 25 November 2013, clause 4). These were the results of the actions undertaken by the former University administration, which had held a tender prior to the approval of the technical design assignment by the Federal Education Agency!
But this is only half of the story. In the situation when the contract with the designer and the construction company had already been signed, ten months later, in August 2008, the Federal Education Agency changed the technical design assignment at the request (!) of the University administration. In accordance with the new assignment, new requirements for the composition, types and brands of technological and other equipment for the educational process were established. All this yet again led to an increase in the cost of the project. Thus, it is no surprise that the State Expert Examination Department assessed the cost of the project to be not 8.050 billion but 17.5 billion roubles. I would like to emphasise that it did not have to do with the increased costs of the work itself, but with the increase in its scope and the use of higher quality equipment, which was, therefore, more expensive.
Since the contract with the construction company had already been signed, the latter had every right at any time to refuse to perform works not included in the contract. In the absence of the design project and, consequently, lacking the information on project cost, the University administration launched the construction work on the project, with the work starting almost immediately on all possible facilities at once (ten facilities altogether). I would like to emphasise that St Petersburg University officials knew perfectly well that the 8.050 billion roubles provided by the Government Regulation would not be enough to complete all those works. However, they stubbornly continued the large-scale simultaneous development of all facilities (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 25 November 2013, clause 4). The Dean of the Faculty and the Vice-Rector were always quite open about the reasons for such actions: the construction objects should be built all at once; indeed, the money we have will not be enough to complete the construction of all the buildings, but the government will have no other choice but to allocate additional funds. And if we do not build everything at once, no one will give money for any new construction object!
Unfortunately, the desire to spend the allocated funds and the lack of experience at the beginning of project implementation led not only to errors but also to some serious violations. In 2006, the former administration of the University made a decision to spend more than 600 thousand dollars, which had been allocated to St Petersburg University specifically for construction work, on carrying out the work on the land plot, as well as on cleaning and landscaping the ponds. In 2008, when the violations were detected during an internal (and not external) inspection, the University immediately and on its own initiative returned all the money to the budget (using the income received from the extra-budgetary activities of St Petersburg University). The following year, government appropriations for the construction of the campus were reduced by the same amount (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 25 November 2013, clause 4; An RBC request: Audit Chamber Report on construction of the St Petersburg University campus on the palace and park grounds of ‘Mikhailovskaya Dacha’ (with Addendum from 30 January 2014)). Thus, the university had to pay twice for all these “escapades” of certain University officials, and since the regulatory authorities for some reason did not feel like doing anything about these outrageous actions, the Vice-Rector for Economic and Social Development and the Dean of the Faculty of Management got off easy with just a written reprimand in 2008 (see Order No 3599/1 from 02 December 2008 “On issuing a reprimand”).
I would like to emphasise that we have always had a different task: to remedy the violations of our predecessors and to find legitimate and effective solutions that will help us to create the required favourable conditions for the best business school in Russia and Eastern Europe — the business school of St Petersburg University.
Why so many violations? This is a question to the previous administration of the University. Let me point out that the constant attempts of the former administration of the Faculty of Management (which for a long time had been supported by our economic managers as well) to drive up the requirements set for the designers and the builders, as well as the requirements to the materials and equipment used, led to negative consequences. For example, the design included construction of a library with a book depository for over one million storage units. And this was done in a situation when libraries increasingly get converted into electronic form and access to electronic publications can be achieved from each workplace. The construction of this facility together with site preparation and library equipment would have required one billion roubles, while at the same time enough space for all the books in physical form could be easily found in the Main Academic Building. The same officials came up with a decision to repurpose the Palace of Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich to house the Institute of Management. The building of the Institute is mostly offices of the researchers, while the renovation of the palace and its repurposing would have cost almost 1.5 billion roubles, adjusted for current prices. Meanwhile, just a few hundred metres away from the palace, there is a multipurpose building where every (!) member of the academic staff already has an individual office, including spaces suitable for research work.
In October 2008, the Rector succeeded in obtaining changes to the city development plan and the law of St Petersburg “On public landscaped areas”.
14 out of 17 state expert examination reviews for the total sum of 15.5 billion roubles (i.e. two thirds of all the funds) were obtained only in 2008 and 2009. That means that up until the end of 2009 there was no information on the cost of the entire project. When at the end of 2009 the positive state expert examination reviews were obtained and the total estimated cost of the project became clear, the University took a number of measures aimed at optimisation of the project design and at saving costs (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 25 November 2013, clause 4). Thanks to this, we were able to save the mentioned 2.7 billion roubles. By the way, this is not our own assessment: this figure is expressly stated in the RF Government Regulation No 1150 of 3 November 2014 on financing the construction of the campus. These savings enabled us to “fit into” the strict financing limit of allocated budgetary funds and put the first start-up facility into service.
Members of the Board of Trustees for the Graduate School of Management of St Petersburg University, headed by Sergei Ivanov, endorsed the initiative of the Rector of St Petersburg University, Nikolay Kropachev, on restructuring the project. It was agreed that it was necessary to concentrate efforts on the most important facilities that would enable the University to start the teaching and learning process at the campus, that is, on the construction of the first start-up facility and, above all, on the renovation of the Main Academic Building. The Government of the Russian Federation supported the proposal, and in 2011 the University was allocated 6.9 billion for the completion of the first start-up facility. This was preceded by the audit of the Accounts Chamber, and only after its approval had the Government issued the Regulation (see An RBC request: Audit Chamber Report on construction of the St Petersburg University campus on the palace and park grounds of ‘Mikhailovskaya Dacha’ (with Addendum from 30 January 2014); Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 27 January 2014 (with Addendum from 13 February 2015), clause 2). The site preparation, as well as the main part (though not all!) of the renovation (repurposing) of the Main Academic Building, the construction of the Multifunctional Student Centre and the General Services Building were completed in 2011-2013. Since, as mentioned above, our predecessors used to carry out construction of everything at once, the construction of those buildings that had not been completed by that moment was stopped in 2011 in accordance with the Government Regulation. Unfortunately, 274.2 million roubles had to be spent for this purpose.
In order to complete the first phase of construction in 2014, the University needed 530.044 million roubles. Meanwhile, no money for that purpose was provided in the budget. However, only about ten percent of the federal funds already invested in the construction were lacking.
So, what was to be done? After a long negotiation process, the University managed to convince the contractor to review and optimise the design project without depreciating the usability and technical properties of the facilities. As a result, more than 500 million roubles were saved during the construction of three facilities in 2013 (that is, more money was saved that the amount needed for the completion of the first phase of the construction — the construction of the Main Academic Building, the Multipurpose Student Centre, and the General Services Building). The University reported the savings to the authorities, duly transferred all the saved funds to the federal budget, and requested their return in 2014 for the purpose of completing the work on the buildings of the first start-up facility. And here we suddenly got a refusal!
The Russian Government prepared and adopted the 2014 budget – and again a refusal. Our arguments that we saved 533 million roubles in 2013 alone and, during the entire period of construction, had saved over 2.7 billion roubles, were not taken into account. We got the following response: “There are a lot of construction projects where money is saved…” (though no examples were ever provided). January of 2014 passed by, then February, but there was still no decision on allocating us the funds that we had saved. If we did not start the construction work immediately, we were running out of the possibility to finish it by the end of 2014. The builders agreed to continue the construction on the word of honour of the Rector, who was sure that one day justice would finally triumph, and more than half of the planned work had been already completed by June. In August, we finally received the long-awaited approval from the relevant ministries, and then the Russian government issued Regulation No 1150 of 3 November 2014 “On implementation of the development, renovation (repurposing) of the palace and park grounds of ‘Mikhailovskaya Dacha’ in 2007-2010 and construction of facilities to house the business school – the Graduate School of Management of the Federal State Educational Institution of Higher Professional Education ‘St Petersburg State University’” (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 05 May 2015, clause 1). This enabled us to complete the first start-up facility in 2014, and already in 2015 its buildings were put into service.
I.: How much was invested in the construction of the campus? What is the total sum we are talking about here?
M.K.: During all the time that the project has been implemented, ten billion roubles have been spent on construction work, and only 7.1 billion roubles were spent on the buildings of the first start-up facility. The rest of the money was spent on such projects as halls of residence for master’s and doctoral students, the administrative building, and especially on the halls of residence for bachelor’s degree students, which are already 23 per cent complete. The funds spent on the halls of residence for undergraduates, master’s degree students and doctoral students were not wasted; the construction work to complete the halls of residence will be renewed in 2016.
I would like to mention that the construction of a university campus on the grounds of a palace and park estate is a unique project, which is unprecedented not only in Russia but in the world. Only our students get an opportunity to study – and ultimately live – in the buildings constructed on the grounds of a historic park.
However, the fact that the campus is located in a historic place is not only the unique attraction of the project; it also represents significant difficulties at all stages of its implementation. For example, the existing city-planning standards limit the height of buildings erected in this area to 12 metres, which makes it impossible to build standardised and relatively inexpensive halls of residence 10-15 stories high on the grounds of Mikhailovskaya Dacha. Therefore, we had to design and build three-story halls of residence over a larger area and to increase the number of buildings, which, of course, increased the complexity of the project as well as increased its cost, making it two or three times higher than similar construction works in the area where it is allowed to build standard high-rise halls of residence, or even on Vasilyevsky Island (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 25 November 2013, clause 4). The utility networks and infrastructure were also undeveloped: the campus area even lacked urban heat-supply networks, necessitating the construction of a local gas boiler house. Even the electricity, gas, water, and sewerage networks had to be significantly modernised, which again required investments of hundreds of millions of roubles.
I.: When will the halls of residence appear at Mikhailovskaya Dacha? What is the planned time period for completing the whole project?
M.K.: Today, when the construction of student halls of residence and the Chamberlain’s Building for the administrative staff has not yet been completed, it would be premature to speak about the finishing date of construction. 600 million roubles were allocated to the University in 2016 for the purpose of completing the construction of the halls of residence. In 2011 alone, the construction of three unfinished halls of residence was stopped. One of them, consisting of nine buildings, is at the highest degree of completion. Now the funds will be committed to its construction, and this year we plan to finish at least two of the nine buildings. If the Government finds a way to allocate to St Petersburg University additional funds for completing and putting into service all nine buildings of the halls of residence (they belong to the second start-up facility), 600 students of our University will be able to move in there by 2017.
As for the other two buildings of the halls of residence, which belong to the third start-up facility and are designed to accommodate 300 and 350 people respectively, only the so-called “zero cycle” — excavation, drainage, foundation work — has been completed for them, so the completion of their construction is planned for subsequent years.
I.: So, the halls of residence are a priority?
M.K.: Undoubtedly. I would like to stress the following: the very fact that the Russian government, under the current difficult economic situation, allocated funds to the University for building new halls of residence is highly significant. This is a sign that our work has been highly appreciated. President Vladimir Putin, as well as Sergei Ivanov, the Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Graduate School of Management, St Petersburg State University, and Olga Golodets, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, who visited the new campus in 2015 year, praised the results of our work (see Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the new St Petersburg University Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus and talked to students; Olga Golodets: “Development of human capital assets is our top priority”). The fact that we were able to successfully complete the construction of the first start-up facility has proved the following: we know how to optimise design solutions in order to get the desired result. Therefore, we will be able to spend the funds efficiently when building the halls of residence.
I.: You have compared Mikhailovskaya Dacha with a “smart” home. What modern information technologies are already in use and what opportunities do they create for university students?
M.K.: Today, the new St Petersburg University campus is outfitted with cutting-edge equipment, and some of the information technologies used here have no equals anywhere in Russia. In the future, when the construction work is completed, the campus will become a truly “smart” home for our students and teachers: all the systems (lighting and heating, burglar and fire alarms, etc.) will work simultaneously, and it will be possible to operate the equipment of the entire campus from literally one control room.
We managed to create a convenient, high-tech environment for teaching students in the Main Academic Building. About 30 lecture rooms in the building are “smart” rooms. One remote control desk makes it possible to control the work of all equipment in the huge building — from lighting to multimedia systems.
I would like to emphasise that not only the construction, but also the operation of the new campus is a difficult task. It can be solved only with the help of highly qualified personnel because working with state-of-the-art equipment requires special knowledge and skills. This is a serious challenge for the University, but it also represents a new, invaluable experience.
I.: Many were surprised by the successful combination of the classic and high-tech architecture in the Main Academic Building (the building itself was created in the 19th century in the Neo-Renaissance style) that you managed to achieve. How did this design concept appear?
M.K.: The project of the Main Academic Building was based on the concept of open space: the idea of a classical Greek polis, the Agora of classical Athens - the venue of the Athenian popular assembly. The building embodies the concept of free communication of students and teachers. This is the idea embodied in the architectural space: there is a lot of natural light in the lobby of the building; it comes from the ceiling and the floor-to-ceiling windows; many rooms have “transparent” walls made of glass, etc. In my opinion, we were able to fully implement the concept, which is in harmony with the idea of an open university.
It is no secret that maintaining the delicate balance between the site of unique cultural heritage, the entire territory of the palace and the park of the Mikhailovskaya Dacha estate, and the construction of a modern campus comfortable for students and teachers is a difficult task. I am convinced that when we complete all stages of the construction, the result will satisfy our students and teachers. Building this high-class campus is a unique project for Russia. In the long term, this experience can be replicated, and our solutions can be used in future projects for the development of St Petersburg University and other universities of our country.
I.: What are the most interesting technological solutions that you would like to mention?
M.K.: It would be difficult to name everything. Our unique experience can be found in the very system that provides for the needs of the campus (the automation and management systems, communications, etc.). No other university in Russia can boast that they have created such a system. Practically in every type of classroom you will find our own software developed specifically for the needs of St Petersburg University.
The very few first months during which the new campus started its work showed that the funds that had been invested in the automation and management of complex utility systems had paid off. Therefore, the experience developing a unified system for management and automation of utility systems, as well as the systems providing for the educational process, will be used to the fullest when the buildings comprising the First Cadet Corps are repurposed for the needs of the University. The buildings of the First Cadet Corps cover an area of 58,000 square metres which, until the end of 2011, belonged to the Khroulyov Military Academy of Logistics. We already know what issues can arise and how to avoid them with a new project. It has been a truly unique experience, both for the University and the designers as well as the developers of these systems. And we could only acquire this knowledge by implementing such a complex project as the construction of the Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus.
I.: What other development projects does St Petersburg University plan to carry out in the coming years?
In addition to the new campus, the University is actively working on several development projects. For instance, in 2014 the administration of St Petersburg allocated to St Petersburg University a plot of land on Vasilyevsky Island near the Smolenka River estuary (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 07 October 2013, clause 2; Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 06 October 2014, clause 2). Actually, this site had earlier belonged to the University on conditions of free, unlimited use. These were perfect conditions! A few days prior to the appointment of Nikolay. Kropachev as Acting Rector of St Petersburg University, however, the University administration surrendered the right for such a favourable form of land use and unilaterally offered to replace the free unlimited use of the land plot with a land lease of 236 million roubles per year. The plot was transferred to the construction company right away on a promise that after the development work is over, some of the land will be transferred back to the University. Somehow they forgot to sign a written agreement in which the time and size of the area to be returned to the University would have been spelled out. Because the University very soon went into rent arrears, the contract with the city was terminated and the plot of land was appropriated from the University. Long negotiations with the city for the return of the land back to the University under initial conditions took five years. The size of the land plot is 66,500 square metres. Here we plan to build a multipurpose sports centre for students and a series of halls of residence with 7,000 places. In 2014, the Rector managed to persuade the federal authorities to allocate 100 million roubles for the project design work in 2015. In 2015, the planning stage for the construction of the new centre was completed, and we are waiting for the state expert examination of planning documentation. The site will be developed gradually, following the allocation of funds from the federal budget. In accordance with the experience achieved during the construction work on the Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus, the project has been divided into stages, which can be implemented in any order depending on the amount and purpose of funds allocated by the government: we can start with the sports centre, or with any hall of residence.
We have already started the work on the territory of the First Cadet Corps: the electricity supply network is being renovated. Here we are going to create a multipurpose educational centre, where students from any faculty or department of the University will be able to study, and the rooms will be able to accommodate any academic field, from philology to chemistry. Together with the city administration, we plan to establish on this site a conference centre to be used not only for academic and research activities, but also for holding major city and national events (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 01 September 2014, clause 2). I would like to stress that this is a very ambitious project not only by the University standards, but also by the standards of the entire Russian system of education and science. The cost of the project to repurpose the buildings of the First Cadet Corps for the needs of the University exceeds ten billion roubles.
It is still too early to say when the project will be completed; everything depends on federal budgetary allocations. I am convinced, however, that we will be able to demonstrate as efficient an approach to spending public money when implementing our future projects as we managed to achieve when building the university campus on the territory of the Mikhailovskaya Dacha estate.
In conclusion, many are unaware of the fact that initially the project of the new campus did not enjoy solid support from the deans of the faculties. When the Rector of St Petersburg University instructed the Vice-Rector for Research to draft proposals for a possible location of the business school in Peterhof, the Vice-Rector for Research, together with the deans of natural sciences faculties, “could not find an unoccupied area in proximity to the University buildings in Peterhof.” All “unoccupied areas” had already been divided among physicists, chemists, mathematicians, biologists and applied mathematicians. More than ten years have passed, and these areas still stand empty, while they could be housing new academic buildings, halls of residence, a sports centre, or a library. How our Peterhof campus could have changed and blossomed in this case! As I have already mentioned, the same amount of money would have been enough to build (instead of renovating and repurposing) three times more buildings in this part of Peterhof, and this could have been done much faster.
All these figures (i.e. that the cost of renovation and new construction would be three times higher) were, of course, not yet known to anyone in the early 2000s. But even then, it was clear that the cost of construction work in this part of Peterhof would differ significantly from the renovation work on the palace estate and the new construction under conditions of height limitations. These arguments were voiced by the deans of social sciences and humanities faculties (the faculties of economics, law, psychology, and philology) at the meeting in the University holiday centre in Roshchino held to discuss that particular issue. The 2006 presentation of the project was made by the Dean of the Faculty of Management, V.S. Katkalo, and the Vice-Rector for Administrative and Economic Affairs, L.V. Ognev. The objections voiced by the humanities faculties were ignored (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 27 January 2014 (with Addendum 13 February 2015), clause 2). The deans of the social sciences faculties did not support them in their disagreement with the Rector. The deans of the humanities faculties also warned the entire University staff that such major targeted investments into the University budget would soon lead to the following situation: while the construction work in Mikhailovka was going on, the University would not be able to receive budgetary allocations for any other St Petersburg University facilities. At that time, for example, more than 36 per cent of the University buildings were in disrepair and more than 47 per cent of the University halls of residence required renovation.
We cannot change history. But it is both possible and necessary to ensure that the modern infrastructure of the Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus will work to the benefit of the entire University!