By Judith Patrick
Students had an opportunity to be a part of the discussion on the upcoming renovations of the Travers and Wolfe Halls on Wednesday, Sept. 21.
The meeting started off with a welcome from Christopher Blakeley, executive president of Student Government and a junior civil engineering major, and then kicked into gear with a summary of the renovation project by Curt Heuring, the College’s vice president of administration.
The Towers will receive an $87 million remodel that was approved this past July. This summer, the architect for the project was chosen. The firm has a background in designing residence halls and was also offered the most cost-effective contract. With an emphasis on sustainability, efforts will be made to ensure that the renovation will fit the needs of future generations.
The bill for the architect will cost about $1 million of the budget. This will leave a lot of opportunity to use the remaining money for amenities, such as air conditioning and things of that nature, according to Heuring.
The importance of student feedback during this time of planning was stressed at the meeting. Heuring reiterated throughout the dialogue that the design phase will take about 14 months, and discussions like these will be integral to getting the plans just right.
“There are going to be lots of opportunity for feedback; what’d you like, what’d you hate. They want to make changes that will make the students happy,” Heuring said. “But they don’t want to be changing things once construction is already underway, because then things get very expensive.”
Under the current construction plan for the Towers, one tower will be shut down and remodeled while the other tower is still being used to house students, and then vice versa.
The majority of the meeting consisted of Student Government representatives providing feedback on what they like about the Towers, what they don’t like, and what they would be inclined to change.
Matthew Van Soelen, a freshman computer science major and senator for the School of Science, expressed his desire for the Towers to feel less dated and more “homey.” Van Soelen also discussed optimizing the layout of the rooms, as single rooms in the Towers are currently “L” shaped and do not allow residents much living space.
One concern for both SG members and administration was the awkwardness created by the current communal bathroom setup. Sean Stallings, assistant vice president of Student Affairs, was able to share that a big part of planning right now is trying to redistribute the way the bathrooms are placed along the floors, so that the distance one has to walk to the restroom is significantly shorter.
SG representative Patricia Kou, a sophomore political science major and vice president of Administration and Finance, voiced her concerns about the conservation of the murals in the Towers.
Stallings shared that the board is currently working on a way to create a coffee table-like book full of photographs of the murals because it is important to conserve students’ artwork.
The idea to make each room accessible with an ID card instead of a key was discussed during the meeting. The design team is working out the kinks now, but said it’s a possibility in the future.
The worry of an increase in room and board costs was also addressed. The remodel is not planned to cause any increase in room and board charges for those who live in the Towers, aside from the modest increases that are normal for each year.
Students also asked for more large spaces for clubs to meet as well as potential lounge space for floors on higher levels, so that students don’t have to descend nine or 10 flights of stairs to relax with friends.
The board members shared that since the capacity of the Towers will decrease with the renovation, more freshmen will most likely be shifted around to the other dormitories.
The desire to have the Blue Light system continue was expressed. Stallings assured attendees that the plan is for every student to have a Blue Light within eyesight of their door.
Another large part of the discussion was how upperclassmen think the remodel of the Brower Student Center was handled, and what they liked and disliked. Some SG members liked the remodel, but were disappointed to see that all of the tables and chairs made the center look like a food court. To the joy of many in the room, Stallings announced that they have indeed ordered more comfortable seating for the building, and some of it should be here as early as next week.
Students also shared concerns of the lack of insulation in the student offices in BSC, making the rooms very “echo-y” and noisy from other rooms nearby. There was also the apprehension of the exposed wiring in the ceilings and the raw cement columns in the student center make the building look unfinished to both administration members and SG.
The last segment of the meeting was designated to explaining the current standing of the College’s Signature Spaces. Since the College does not have the resources to budget long-term maintenance on every building, 14 “Signature Spaces” have been selected as spots that will receive routine maintenance.
The board was allocated $100,000 for the first project to move forward, and the top priority was the Social Sciences Atrium. However, this funding is insufficient for the planned maintenance, and it does not appear likely that any more funding will be provided in the future.
Heuring stressed that the board has plans to fix up older campus buildings soon, but it takes money that the College simply doesn’t have. Administrative teams are trying to plan a way to balance maintenance with not damaging the College’s credit rating.
The meeting concluded with an overall sense of satisfaction in the group’s discussion on what they want to plan for the future of the Towers, as well as for the future of the campus. Discussions on the matter are expected to proceed in the future over the upcoming months.