By Theresa Schliep and Aislinn Keely
A week after notifying students of revoking free access to the grounds of the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) Fordham and the NYBG reached an agreement reinstating Fordham students’ free access to the its grounds for at least the coming year.
Fordham and the NYBG have had a mutual agreement allowing the NYBG to use Fordham’s parking facilities for free, when needed, in exchange for free grounds admission to the Garden. That agreement will extend through August 31, 2019, according to a university-wide email.
“The extension of our agreement is an acknowledgment of our institutions’ overlapping educational missions, partnerships in scientific and humanities research, and community building in the Bronx,” said the email.
Fordham and the NYBG will look for ways to develop their relationship and come to a longer term agreement, according to the email.
In the email suspending free access, Marco Valera, vice president of facilities, said access would be revoked starting Sept. 1. In response, the Outdoors Club joined forces with campus groups to write a petition calling for access to be reinstated. United Student Government (USG), Residence Halls Association (RHA) and Commuter Students Association (CSA) were among the backers of the petition.
“The purpose of the petition is to represent a key stakeholder in this decision, which is the Fordham student body, which was not consulted in this decision to revoke free access,” said Kacie Candela, FCRH ’19, President of Outdoors Club.
Candela worked closely with Connor Sullivan, FCRH ’19, President of USG, to get the petition off the ground. Over two days, Candela said at least ten sets of eyes wrote, edited and reviewed the document.
“The purpose of the petition is to represent a key stakeholder in this decision, which is the Fordham student body, which was not consulted in this decision to revoke free access,” she said.
Within an hour of going live, the petition gained 100 signatures. In four hours, it broke 500. By Friday morning, it broke 1000 signatures since its posting the previous night.
By the time access had been reinstated on Thursday, August 23, the petition had garnered 2723 signatures.
Sullivan said he was glad Outdoors Club chose to collaborate with USG.
“USG wants more students and clubs/organizations to come to USG to help with the issues they face,” he said. “This current issue is indicative of the fact that we can be a resource for students.”
The reason for the initial suspension pertained to cost benefit for both the University and the NYBG, according to Valera. Last year, Valera said the university sought compensation for costs pertaining to the maintenance of parking facilities – namely, public safety supervisors who staffed the lots during the Garden’s overflow hours, expenses related to work on the facilities and general operation of the lots.
When it came time to renew the contract and Fordham stipulated it wanted to “break even” on the costs related to the parking facilities, Valera said the NYBG notified the university it did not want to renew the contract.
“We went in with a number we thought was reasonable,” Valera said in an interview with the Ram.
In a statement, the NBYG said the Garden “can no longer afford the payment to Fordham and so is compelled to let the agreement expire.” It said the NYBG had to make a “significant payment” to Fordham to use its parking facilities.
Valera emphasized both parties have a friendly and cooperative relationship.
Prior to reaching an agreement, the NYBG offered a discounted Community Grounds Membership at a reduced price of $40. The NYBG also offered students, faculty and staff a limited-time, year-round membership at $68. The student petition highlighted that this raised the barrier to entry for students who may have been on a tight budget.
Fordham will continue to have the same access as the rest of the general public. People can enter the NYBG free of cost on Wednesday and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Sullivan said clubs that use the Gardens for programming would have to appeal to USG for funding without free access.
“While I do not know how drastic these changes will be, this certainly will affect how clubs and organizations program and budget with regards to NYBG visits,” said Sullivan.
Running club conducts the majority of its weekly runs on the NYBG grounds. Mary Lally, FCRH ’20, President of Running Club said revoking access would be detrimental to her club because Fordham’s campus is not large enough to prepare for longer runs.
“The Botanical Gardens allows our club to practice for races in a safe place while enjoying the beauty of the Gardens,” said Lally.
When news of suspended access broke, Fordham students and alumni expressed dissatisfaction with the terminated agreement. Rosalyn Kutsch, FCRH ’19, said she went to the Garden a few weeks ago and was given a flyer regarding the change in access.
“I think this is a big loss for both the Fordham community and the Botanical Garden,” she said. “The gardens offer the opportunity for students to get outside and access nature. It’s a place where students run, go on walks to clear their head during finals and generally to go enjoy time with their friends.”
She said many students bring family to the NYBG during visits.
“Overall, it’s a huge disappointment and I know that many students will feel the loss this year and for years to come,” she said.
On Twitter, students and alumni responded to the Ram’s announcement of the change. Many lamented the loss of access and faulted Fordham for not continuing the agreement.
“The Botans is my favorite place to relieve stress, even if just for an hour, and I am so upset we won’t be able to go for free anymore,” Alex Sorbello, FCRH ’19, wrote on Twitter. “On a college budget, I probably won’t be able to go often, if at all. Fordham: be better!”
With access restored for the time being, the petition’s change.org page now has a flag declaring ‘victory.’