By Mia Ingui
The Towers are here to stay.
After two years of debate, an open forum for students and faculty last October and strong opinions from the College community, the Business and Infrastructure Committee of the board of trustees decided on Feb. 15 to renovate Travers and Wolfe halls rather than demolish and rebuild them, as previously discussed in the open forum.
The deliberation between demolishing or renovating the Towers ultimately came down to budget, and the renovation plan would prove the most cost efficient, according to College President R. Barbara Gitenstein.
Since this is the largest project the College has tackled in recent years, there was a lengthy planning process before the idea was proposed to the board of trustees.
Vice President of Student Affairs Amy Hecht proposed the renovation presentation to Gitenstein, working closely with a consulting firm as well as construction and business finance professionals, according to Gitenstein.
“I considered her analysis and accepted her recommendation, and that was the recommendation that went to the board committee for consideration and action,” Gitenstein said.
Head Media Relations Officer Luke Sacks said the demolition was no longer considered a viable option, but it was Residential Education’s first plan for the Towers.
“In 2015, Residential Education undertook a housing demand and master plan study, which suggested it was financially and programmatically better to demolish Travers and Wolfe halls and replace them with a new building,” Sacks said. “The College then embarked on a detailed programming effort with the architect who did the original study to fine tune the program, cost and schedule.”
As the planning progressed, the costs started adding up.
“The cost of demolishing Travers and Wolfe and constructing a new building would be much more expensive than initially thought. The cost ballooned from $105 million to approximately $140 million,” Sacks said.
That costly of a project was not in the best interest of the College or its students, according to Sacks.
“The College concluded that the benefits of a new facility were not worth the cost. A renovated Travers-Wolfe could meet the needs of the institution,” Sacks said. “The decision reflects the College’s commitment to fiscal responsibility. This housing solution will keep costs to students as low as possible and preserve resources for other institutional priorities.”
The timeline for the tentative plan, according to Sacks, goes as follows: The $87 million renovation will first be presented to the board of trustees at its July 2017 meeting.
Then the design of the renovation will take approximately 18 months and will hopefully be completed in spring 2019.
The Towers are going to be renovated separately. Renovation on the first tower — it is currently undecided which tower will be first — is expected to begin in summer 2020, and the renovation on the second is expected to begin in summer 2021. The project is estimated to be completed in summer 2022.
“(The College) will continue to guarantee housing to freshmen and sophomores and plans to investigate off-campus housing options for the periods when students will be displaced from the Towers,” Sacks said.
The renovation will include the addition of air conditioning, Wi-Fi, redesigned bathroom layouts to increase privacy and more.
For the T-Dubs fans, the in-building dining option will remain in the renovated Towers, according to Sacks.
Gitenstein addressed concerns of straying from the proposed renovation schedule.
“There are always concerns about the schedule of a construction project, particularly a housing project and particularly a renovation,” Gitenstein said. “Renovations are much less predictable than new construction because there can always be surprises.”
Having housed more than 45 years of freshmen classes,Travers and Wolfe halls have become an iconic part of the College’s landscape since they were built in 1971.
As expected, many members of the campus community are enthusiastic about the renovation.
Maximillian C. Burgos, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, was glad to hear that the renovation is officially a go, as he felt that the Towers needed much improvement.
“They should’ve done it sooner,” Burgos said. “I think that it will improve the campus community, and the freshmen will stop being so grumpy.”
Joey Baldofsky, vice president of RHA and a sophomore history and secondary education dual major, is optimistic about the renovation and emphasized it could improve the freshman experience.
“It is a much better option for the future of the campus,” Baldofsky said. “It will keep costs down low, as tuition is always on our minds. And is preserving a piece of TCNJ culture. Generations have gone through the Towers, and I think that’s so cool.”
Alumni are happy to hear that the Towers they knew and loved will be preserved on campus. Laura Fecak (’03), who previously told The Signal last November she was not ready to see the Towers go, could not be more thrilled about the renovation.
“I’m so excited they are keeping the Towers and look forward to seeing the new and improved T/W after renovations,” Fecak said. “I think that it is a much needed improvement and will help keep TCNJ competitive with other colleges and universities that have much nicer housing for their underclassmen.”
The administration is just as excited as the campus community for the renovation. Gitenstein believes the renovation is the right choice for the College.
“While there are downsides to the renovation, like the temporary loss of a number of housing beds while each tower is renovated, we would be losing many more beds in a new construction,” Gitenstein said.
Sacks said the College looks forward to starting the renovations.
“We are excited about the prospect of a terrific renovation that will combine the best of the old and the new,” Sacks said. “Ultimately, we think the campus community will find the experience to have the best elements of the old, the opportunity for new traditions and a better experience overall.”