Updates to dorms, including more community spaces, on the horizon
By Zach Weinstein
Change may be coming to Clark over the summer but in some ways be a return to certain Clark roots. Last month, President Angel announced a slew of planned projects to the Clark campus and the surrounding area via a campus wide email.
One of the planned projects is “building [a] connector that houses lounges and other community spaces to Sanford and Johnson during the summer of 2012, with a comparable project for Hughes and Dana during the summer of 2013.”
One of the goals of this renovation is to create a community space that fosters social life and creates additional study spaces for these dorms. A piece of Clark’s history provided some of the inspiration for this project.
There used to be an abundance of such spaces; the Little Center for Johnson and Sanford, and Dana Commons for Dana and Hughes. Executive Vice President Jim Collins, the coordinator for these projects, said, “Over time we’ve gotten away from that.” This project would be a way of renewing some of the community spaces on campus as has already started to happen with the renovations of Bullock and Wright Halls. It is likely that this effort would be well received by students as the planning process originated largely out of discussions with R.A.s and feedback from student surveys.
However, among students, reactions to the announced dorm renovations are mixed. Chief among the concerns was whether this was truly the best use of Clark resources. Ben Gardner ’12, had a skeptical attitude regarding the renovations, “As a part of the sustainability community on campus I’m unsure if this is the best allotment of resources for the university to reach their climate action plan [of being carbon neutral by 2030]. I feel like they’re taking a lot of easy solutions and postponing some of the larger ones, so if money could have been going to that then…in redoing the dorms if they could fix the heating as the heating sensors make no sense, which is something that students care about that would work towards climate sustainability.” Similar sustainability issues were brought up by other students who highlighted the issue that hall lights in these dorms are unable to be switched off. Despite these concerns, a number of possible benefits were highlighted by students including increased accessibility of the campus due to the proliferation of elevators, benefits to social life if Bullock and Wright hall are models to judge by, and a sense of fairness. As Ben pointed out, “it might also be good in terms of equity. I know some people were thinking that the renovations to the freshman dorms were just for drawing in new students instead of for the student population as a whole.”
Some students have decided to take more of a wait and see approach, such as Lauren Rosenberg ’13. When commenting on what she thought of the upcoming changes she said, “in terms of making campus more [handicapped] accessible, if that’s part of their plan, it’d be nice. It would be important to make the dorms better by improving issues with the lights in the halls that cannot be shut off which is a big waste. If they’re putting in lots of money for little change then I don’t know.”
Some of these issues were addressed by Collins. He mentioned that they hoped to be able to complete some improvements to the interiors of the buildings but it is uncertain as to what these will specifically be. He touched on the gloomy lighting of the halls and generally on how energy efficiency would be improved. One specific example that he mentioned is replacing the steam lines that run to the dorms, as new lines will be more efficient. He also described some of the ways that efficiency issues had already been addressed, like the high efficiency lighting now in place. He believed that they would not change the heating system as he stated that the general design of the buildings were relatively efficient in that regard.
Collins was careful to point out that nothing was final, despite the emailed statement, and that they were still in the last stages of the planning process which includes consulting with the architect and evaluating designs and cost. Another important factor that is being considered is the tight time frame; Certificates of Occupancy were obtained for the newly refinished Bullock and Wright Halls just 3 days before the move in date for the 2010 first year class. He also described how the project is funded, “…we borrowed from a tax exempt bond issue which we’ll need to pay back. Really it’s room and board money. We’re planning on a 3% increase to room and board, which will include debt service. There’s always a debt service available, as was the case with Bullock, Wright and Blackstone. It’s not like we’re going to be jumping room and board from 4k to 5k.” It should be noted that the increase in room and board was a planned increase, separate from the decision to renovate.
No one can tell what the end result will be, especially as nothing has been finalized, but it seems likely that Johnson and Sanford may look rather different come next fall.