It was 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, and things were looking pretty bleak from where Phil Dinehart stood in the middle of the Student Woodshop.

J. Brady McCollough
Rackham student Naomi Feldman sands a wooden bowl on a Layth machine yesterday at the Student Woodshop. (ASHLEY HARPER/Daily)

Two days earlier, Dinehart, a part-time employee for the woodshop, had received verbal notification that his job no longer existed, and that the woodshop was closed – a victim of budget reductions made by University Unions, which had to cut $700,000 from the 2004 fiscal budget starting July 1.

In a letter sent to employees in the Division of Student Affairs, University Unions Director Loren Rullman said the main reason the woodshop was closed is because the percentage of student users is lower than that of other groups.

“The decision to eliminate these areas was arrived at carefully by keeping in mind the primary focus of the Division of Student Affairs – services, facilities and programs for students. In recent years the percentage of student users of (Student Woodshop) offerings … has been less than the percentage who are non-students.” Rullman stated in the letter. “These decisions were only made after cutting over one-half million dollars in general operating areas, and no more could be cut without significant impact on core mission-critical areas.”

Open for 30 years and located in the Student Activities Building, many students, faculty and staff have invested thousands of dollars in creative endeavors made possible by the woodshop’s existence. On Friday, many projects – from $1,700 canoes and kayaks to bookshelves and tabletops – were left unfinished, with their owners not knowing how or when they’d be able to complete them.

At the time, it appeared to Dinehart and the woodshop’s users that the closing was effective immediately, with no transition period to finish projects.

But Rullman said while new undertakings cannot be started, measures have been taken so the woodshop can remain open through the summer for students who have already begun projects.

“We did not close the woodshop immediately. What we did say is that we are closing the woodshop, but there is a period of time in which that woodshop will be open so that students can work on their projects,” he said. “The period of time that we’ll be open will be subject to a discussion between the director of the union and the woodshop manager. We have, however, funded the operation beyond July 1, into the next fiscal year.”

Woodshop Manager Kurt Vosburgh, who will work the next three months on severance pay, said he understood the decision to close the woodshop. He added that he had not been surprised by the announcement, since talk of closing the woodshop has been circulating “for years.”

“The closing of the woodshop is something that has been talked about for years and years and years. When funds have been plentiful, it’s easy to fund the woodshop,” Vosburgh said. “A lot of the excitement around this is connected with the sudden dissemination of the news. On Wednesday, the only news that I had was that we were closed.”

Vosburgh said the University ends up paying more than $50,000 each year in operating costs – which do not include heat, electricity, salaries, insurance and other costs. And he added that financially, the woodshop could be considered a poor use of on-campus real estate.

Standing alone in the closed shop – which users said normally sees anywhere from five to 30 people at a time – Dinehart, who has worked at the woodshop for 16 years, said he wasn’t ready to leave.

“No one was here for the money. We were here for the enjoyment,” Dinehart said, adding he did not know of a nearby alternative to the woodshop. “I haven’t been able to think of anything.”

But Dinehart was not the only person not willing to let the woodshop go. By 5 p.m. Friday, a group of 25 employees and users, many of whom are graduate students at the University, had assembled to discuss what could be done to keep the woodshop going.

It was then that many of the users learned that the closing was not as immediate as they had once believed. Vosburgh said Friday that he intends to keep the woodshop open to users during its normal hours, Thursdays through Sundays. It is now expected to be closed Mondays through Wednesdays.

“It is not definite now as to when we are going to have to close our doors for good,” Dinehart said, adding the group was still focused on finding ways to keep the woodshop in operation.

The group discussed everything from funderaising and increasing fees to lobbying the administration and raising awareness about the woodshop’s existence. “It’s too bad to see a place like this whittle away. It’s been a great place to end the day,” said University alum Ethan Orley, who had been using the shop since January.

Orley added that he believes one of the reasons more students do not use the woodshop is simply because they don’t know about it. “It’s unfortunate that I’ve only found out about this place now,” he said. “I’m upset that there hasn’t been enough advertising for this place.”

By the end of the meeting, the scene in the woodshop returned to normal – sort of. While some members of the group slowly gathered wood, projects, and supplies to carry to their cars, others prepared to get dusty and set up shop at one of the workstations.

– Daily News Editor Soojung Chang contributed to this report.

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