Cromwell shutdown complicates housing

Cromwell renovations will begin toward the end of May 2012, ending by the fall 2013 semester. Plumbing and asbestos removal are some of the main improvements that will be made.

Cromwell Hall renovations will begin immediately after school ends in May, and the building will remain closed for more than a year, opening again for the Fall 2013 semester, according to Interim Director of Housing Ryan Farnkopf.

The main reason for the renovation is the building’s aging plumbing system, which Farnkopf said needs to be addressed “immediately.”

The building projects will also include the roof, a few other mechanical systems and an asbestos removal project, as well as a building “face lift,” according to Farnkopf and an official email sent by Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Norfleet to students on Nov. 22.

According to Norfleet’s email, the asbestos insulation in the building’s concrete walls — which he called “standard” for 1966, when Cromwell was originally constructed — poses no harm to current building occupants. According to the National Cancer Institute’s website, asbestos fibers only pose harm to human health when disturbed.

A renovation project, however, would disturb the asbestos fibers, releasing them into the air. The asbestos abatement project is therefore scheduled to be completed by July, before renovation begins.

With the news of Cromwell’s closure, housing has become a greater concern for upperclassmen, who already were placed on the waiting list in record numbers after the housing lottery last spring due to a larger-than-normal freshman class.

The freshmen that would have been placed in Cromwell in the next year — all of whom are guaranteed on-campus housing by College policy — will instead have to placed in residences typically reserved for upperclassmen, said Farnkopf.

This means that there will be approximately 300 fewer beds available for rising juniors and seniors in the upcoming lottery and room selection process this spring, he noted.

Farnkopf was unsure of where students in the first-year honors seminar, who traditionally live in Cromwell, will be housed for 2013, but said that Residential Education will likely meet with Academic Affairs to discuss this in the late spring.

The College also has not yet determined which traditionally upperclassmen residences will shift to become residences next year for freshmen and sophomores, who are also guaranteed housing, but some moves have been made to accommodate upperclassmen, said Executive Director of College Relations Stacy Schuster.

Local hotels are one option being considered, she said.

“The College has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking a hotel (or hotels) within a 10 mile radius of the College that would provide housing accommodations to between 150 to 300 upperclass students,” Schuster said in an email.
Student reactions were mixed.

Senior music major Allie Eichvalds said she’d have lived in a hotel if given the opportunity.

“I would say, ‘Why not?’” Eichvalds said. “As long as they’d provide bussing.”

According to a Trenton Times article, the College would provide bussing to and from campus for hotel residents. Not all students were thrilled with this option, though.

“I don’t know if I’d like the whole bussing thing,” said Gerard Tyrrell, freshman political science major, who expressed hesitance at living “on-campus” at an off-campus location. “It doesn’t sound horrible, but it’s not something I’d fully embrace.”

While Cromwell’s closure will pose an inconvenience for students in the upcoming housing lottery, freshman students living in the renovated building in 2013 can look forward to an enhanced residential experience, said Farnkopf.

The residential rooms will receive new bathroom fixtures, including a new toilet, sink, shower, counter and cabinets, as well as new overhead lighting, furniture and paint, he said. Furthermore, the main lounge, floor lounges and laundry rooms will be remodeled to increase their usablity as student-centered spaces by offering formal and informal places for students to organize events, gather as small groups, or study individually, he added.

“For example, we learned from previous construction projects that residents tend to prefer laundry rooms that incorporate study spaces,” said Farnkopf in an email.

According to Farnkopf, during the renovation’s design phase, a new building layout with traditional double occupancy rooms with communal floor bathrooms — rather than the three-room suite and bathroom configuration currently unique to Cromwell — was considered but later set aside after being deemed “too costly.”

“This plan … would likely have decreased the building’s capacity, resulting in less available beds on campus,” said Farnkopf.

In his official email, Norfleet noted that an attempt to renovate without a one-year shut down of the building is not a feasible alternative.

“All asbestos must be removed prior to the renovation, separate from any other construction work, and with special air monitoring procedures,” he said. “Alternatives to a year shut-down do not provide sufficient time to complete the asbestos abatement and renovation.”

In his email, Norfleet noted that the College has been experiencing a housing shortage for the past 12 years, which has necessitated the lottery. However, he assured students that expanding housing options for students is “central” to the recent decision to advance the Campus Town project, which may add as many as 400 beds for upperclassmen as early as fall 2013.

While Norfleet’s email was the first official message to the campus community about Cromwell’s closure, Farnkopf noted that students had ways to learn about the project before, which was advertised “typical of any
construction project.”

He said that the renovation is listed on the Campus Planning website, offering the community general information about the design team and project scope.  Additionally, the renovations are listed in the College’s Campus Master Plan, approved by the Board of Trustees in March 2008. However, this plan called for renovations in 2015, said Farnkopf, explaining that concerns about the building’s infrastructure  required the renovation schedule to be moved up.  Finally, the

Board of Trustees selected the architect in a December 2010 public meeting, he said.

According to Farnkopf, the College will be holding a series of information sessions to answer any questions students may have regarding the room selection process in the following semester. Before the end of this semester, Residential Education will advertise next year’s building configuration, lottery dates and times.