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Brandeis works toward completion of renovations

By Charlotte Aaron Hannah Schuster and Emily Sorkin Smith

Section: News

September 4, 2015

The Brandeis campus underwent quite a few changes over the summer. In an email to the Brandeis community on Aug. 31, Vice President of Operations Jim Gray outlined the changes that took place.

The university renovated Sherman Dining Hall, with expanded seating. For more information, see the article in The Brandeis Hoot’s Features section.

Gray also announced that “we made progress on our five-year plan to refresh the Mandel Humanities Quad, installing new fire-safety and window systems in Rabb and Golding.” According to Gray, the new systems reduce energy consumption, and the plan is to install these items in other buildings in Mandel in the future.

 

Old dorm furniture donated to nonprofit

The university renovated many residence halls over the summer, including buildings in Ziv, Rosenthal and North Quads. The renovations included the purchasing of new furniture. One student, Sophia Lavrentyeva ’17, a co-coordinator of Brandeis’ Habitat for Humanity chapter (which falls under the umbrella of the Waltham Group), organized the donation of old dorm furniture to the non-profit organization Household Goods Recycling of Massachusetts (HGRM). HGRM is located in Acton, MA, and offers furniture and home goods to families in need.

“The organization runs primarily on donations and volunteer hours,” wrote Lavrentyeva in an email to The Hoot. “As we have spent more time at HGRM, I’ve gained an appreciation for the organization’s efficient functioning and ability to serve such a wide population.”

Lavrentyeva reached out to Timothy Touchette, the director of the Department of Community Living (DCL) and put him in contact with the director of HGRM. According to Lavrentyeva, the furniture was donated in May.

“It will be very exciting to return to HGRM on our first volunteer trip, to see Brandeis furniture in the warehouse for clients to furnish their homes,” Lavrentyeva concluded.

 

Renovations in North Quad ongoing on move-in day

The renovations to North Quad that began over this summer and are still being completed. They have left many residents with unfinished facilities, early-morning construction and safety concerns. There has not been a clear date by which these renovations will be finished, nor do students hear beforehand of any potential disruptions the construction might cause.

One incomplete project is the railing on the balcony of Reitman’s lounge. The balcony has a missing segment of railing with wooden beams standing in their place. The door to the balcony is open, and the only notice about the situation is in hand-written signs outside the lounge that read “Hi! Please don’t go on the Balcony if you value your life!” In smaller, also hand-written print, reads “We are not responsible for any falls that could possible occur—the balcony is not complete!!!” The signs went up on the morning of Sept. 2.

Gray wrote in an email to The Hoot that the construction is expected to last a few days “during which time students will not have access to the balcony until the work is completed.” Gray stated that the existing handrail was safe, but did not meet current building codes.

Some of the bathrooms in North are still under construction and, in the case of one women’s bathroom in Cable Hall, the door for the handicapped stall is missing, rendering it unusable. The work crews that have been finishing the renovations were instructed not to begin work until 9 a.m. and to work in only one bathroom at a time, leaving those on other floors open for use. The presence of work crews unannounced in hall bathrooms, however, has made some residents uncomfortable, including Kate Kesselman ’19, a resident of Reitman Hall.

In his email to The Hoot, Gray stated, “Our crews did a fantastic job in getting the vast majority of the work done in a very compressed period of time. We needed to do some additional work after move in, but, in many instances, the work has been minor.” He apologized for disruptions but believes the renovations necessitate the inconvenience.

Kesselman has a double room in Reitman where the window and the string that controls the shade are so close together that the shades often cannot be operated properly. “It’s really frustrating because they put the windows so close that you can’t actually closes the shades unless you shut [the window] and pull it.” The paint in her room, which was also updated this summer, is already beginning to chip. The women’s bathroom on her hall, she reported, had not received any hand soap until Wednesday, Sept. 3. Most issues in her hall were minor, she said, but collectively caused frustration among her classmates.  

Another issue North residents reported is the fact that the braille numbering that accompanies all room numbers, making room’s accessible to the blind or sight-impaired, have yet to arrive. In its place are room numbers made out of paper with flat dots to represent the raised braille. In regard to this, Gray wrote, “We discovered while reviewing the signage that some of the signs were incorrect and we have reordered the correct signage.” The current paper signs are temporary, he explained, and new signs will go up as soon as the school receives them.

Gender-neutral bathrooms introduced in North Quad

This year, Brandeis introduced gender-neutral bathrooms to North Quad for the first time. First -years were able to request a hall with a gender-neutral bathroom. However, students in newly renovated Cable and Reitman halls arrived at school to find out that the halls they lived in did not have the bathrooms they requested.

Gray wrote in his email to The Hoot, “Our renovation plans this summer called for constructing two gender-neutral bathrooms on the North Quad, which we did in Reitman Hall.” The students, however, were not all placed in halls with the type of bathroom they requested.

First-year Isaac Satin ’19, who is gender-fluid, asked for a gender-neutral bathroom but was placed on a hall with only gender-binary bathrooms. They told The Hoot that they became aware of the lack of gender neutral bathrooms on their floor after they had arrived at Brandeis and moved into their room.

“I am disappointed in the lack of [a gender-neutral bathroom] on my floor but also understand the difficulty of effectively housing each student precisely where they prefer to be.”

Rafi Diamond ’18, a resident of Cable Hall, said that he was told during Community Advisor and Orientation Leader training at the beginning of the year that floors one and two in Cable Hall would have gender-neutral bathrooms. “I was pretty excited about that, especially because, you know, it’s a move toward progress at my school … I had a lot of pride to be the first resident on a gender-inclusive floor.” He said that upon moving in, the signage in the bathrooms was unclear, something he brought up with his CA.

Diamond said that the signs put up in the bathrooms featured both a man, a woman, and a person in a wheelchair, with two of the figures crossed out to denote who the bathroom was intended for. This made him uncomfortable, though he continued to use the men’s bathroom. “I assumed they’d be coming in and moving all these people in and some of these people are going to be uncomfortable with the bathrooms,” Diamond said. “It’s an actively discomforting setting”

The Department of Community Living reached out to the students who were assigned to Cable and who expressed an interest in gender-neutral bathrooms, explained that the bathrooms were being located in Reitman (the majority of the students contacted did not express any concerns) and sought to address any issues this change created,” Gray said. Satin, however, stated that no one reached out to him concerning the mix-up with the bathrooms.

 

Castle Update

In his recent email, Gray explained that the Castle, despite the ongoing construction, is at “a point where maintaining the status quo is not practical or sustainable for the long run.” A team of experts, including a structural engineer, architect and project manager, is developing a plan to retain as much of the Castle as possible.

While Castle residents faced issues for the first few weeks after move-in such as broken floor tiles, missing dressers and an out-of-service bathroom, according to resident Maggie Ziegel ’18, all issues have been resolved as of Tuesday, Sept. 2. “At this point, everything is pretty much on par,” said Ziegel. Despite the structural issues, Castle residents are content with living conditions.  

Arts Facilities

For years, Brandeis has maintained art studio space on Prospect Street, about one mile from campus. Many have called the space remote and substandard. These studios are now moving on campus, to the Epstein building in what many have called a positive step for the Fine Arts department.

In an Arts article from February 2014, The Hoot reported that the floors of the space were often dusty with exterior staircases, requiring students to go outside to access the upper floor. The article quotes Vikki Nunley ’14 stating, “When I first saw it, I thought it was an abandoned building, not the building I would be having classes in … Facilities all but forgets about us … it seems like poison when you walk in … I don’t think the floor has ever been cleaned.” Nunley also commented that she, and other students, often felt unsafe while waiting for the BranVan outside on Prospect Street.

There is a fine arts building on campus, Goldman-Schwartz, but many upperclassman and the Fine Arts Post-Baccalaureate students have their space in the Prospect Street studio. Many feel it is less than ideal to have the underclassman separated from advanced art students. Associate Professor of Sculpture Tory Fair expressed this sentiment in the February 2014 article, also noting, “We are working very hard to bring all the art students on campus.”

In his email to the student body on Aug. 31, Gray called Prospect Street a “less-than-ideal space remote from campus,” and announced the relocation to Epstein.

“Not only does [the move] provide a better location, but the quality of the studios for the students and visiting artists will also be upgraded dramatically,” Gray said. He explained that portions of the Institutional Advancement team moved to a different space and Facilities consolidated their space in Epstein to make the move possible for the Fine Arts department. He thanked these groups for their help in this process. The new art studios will open on Thursday, Sept. 24.

Professor Jonathan Unglaub, chair of the Fine Arts Department wrote in an email to The Hoot, “We are thrilled to have state of the art, light-infused studios to accommodate our seniors and post-baccalaureate students.” He agrees the old studio space was “sub par” and “over a mile off-campus.”

He continued, “Having these advanced students back on campus will inject a new vitality and continuity into the studio art curriculum, and more readily provide inspiration to our beginning students.” Unglaub explains the studios will provide space for students’ independent work as well as critiques. “The new studios will provide facilities that the creativity and ingenuity of our studio art students and faculty deserve,” he believes.

 

Einstein’s and the bookstore get a facelift

Over the summer, Einstein’s was transformed into a full-service cafe. Now in addition to the grab-and-go items, drinks, bakery items and bagels, Einstein’s also serves items such as sandwiches and wraps. The space is larger and the tables that once sat next to Einstein’s have moved into the main part of the SCC atrium. The renovation of Einstein’s also corresponded to renovations of the campus bookstore.

“The campus bookstore’s makeover will improve its layout and customer flow. The bookstore will remain fully functional while these renovations are being completed over the fall,” wrote Gray in his campus-wide email.

Since the expanded Einstein’s opened at the beginning of this semester, service at the cafe has been slower than in the past, with the line occasionally stretching well into the atrium.

“Service is slow right now, but I think it will improve,” said Fallon Bushee ’16, “It’s a practice thing. They have an expanded menu to get used to.”

Gray commented that at Einstein’s “the customer volume has exceeded our projections,” and stated he is working to improve service, with plans to introduce “better signage to direct people to the express line for coffee and more grab-and-go items, and continued training for the staff.”

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