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Community members should take greater role in campus renewal projects

By Zach Phil Schwartz

Section: Opinions

October 23, 2015

In an email dated Aug. 31, Vice President for Campus Operations Jim Gray briefly mentioned improvements to the Mandel Humanities Quad as part of a five-year refreshing plan. He mentioned the implementation of new fire-safety and window systems in Rabb and Golding, but did not go into detail on what else will be updated in the quad in next few years. Save the newer Mandel building proper, the quad is quite visibly in a state of decay, and while the administration is doing something about it, the lack of visibility underscores a series of bigger issues.

If you walk through some of the buildings in the Mandel Quad, you can clearly see that they need much more than minor fixes and improvements. In Golding, you may run across the old water fountain that hasn’t functioned since last semester, when it started spouting discolored water (presumably due to pipe damage caused by the harsh winter). Mounted on the wall of the first floor you can see an inspection certificate, which expired in 2001. Over in Shiffman, the inspection certificate mounted on the second floor expired in 1987. A certain word comes to mind when thinking about the quad: neglect. Several professors have complained, for example, about the classroom climates in the buildings, but these qualms have fallen on deaf ears.

In one classroom in Olin-Sang, the indoor temperature on a 60-degree day hit 75, which was uncomfortable for the professor and the students. Only a few days later, that room was a stifling 81 degrees, while other room temperatures in the same building were much lower.

The symptoms of decay faced by the buildings of the Mandel Humanities Quad are also prevalent in areas on campus that have not been dedicated a renewal plan; buildings in the science complex, Brown and Pearlman all qualify as in need of improvement.

The decaying status of academic buildings around campus as well as some residential buildings highlight failures on both the administrative and community sides. Truth be told, some of these issues still remain because some members of the community are apathetic about the future of their institution. Students, faculty and staff should not only be allowed but also encouraged to participate in surveys as well as advocacy in how their university functions and improves. Surveys represent one of the better avenues for direct communication between the administration and the Brandeis community, but they are severely underutilized and are inconsistently answered.

In an era where there isn’t much direct communication between the administration and the rest of the community, it is hard for students’ concerns to be aired, heard and dealt with in an appropriate manner. We need to be able to talk to the administration about our concerns, whether it be for building renewal or anything else. This policy of neglect cannot stand up. Improvements may have been promised, and while some small changes have been implemented, this five-year renewal plan looks more minor than anything else.

The pipe damage that may have caused the plumbing issues we now see in Golding may have been minor this time, but next time, the building may not be as lucky. I am inclined to say that campus buildings are up to date on their inspections and that the inspection certificates mounted on the walls of the quad buildings are simply just outdated, but given that most (if not all) of the elevators on campus also have expired inspection certificates, how can anyone be certain what is and isn’t safe?

The easiest outlet for students, faculty and staff to communicate all types of issues on campus is through surveys offered by the university. Maintenance is one thing, but we can see through the example of Usen Castle that maintenance can only go so far in keeping up the status quo. We need a more frequent line to the administration open to communicate the concerns we have, whether it be over building integrity or anything else. The biggest thing aside from administrative cooperation is community cooperation, a factor that has been missing in many of the surveys that are sent out to members of the community. The administration has recently made significant strides in reaching out to the community with surveys, but much work is still to be done in order to bridge the gap.

The administrative policy of maintaining the status quo and neglecting to hear significant concerns of campus buildings, specifically academic buildings, can only go so far until a decay-related accident puts an entire building out of service. We have a long and tough winter on the way, and only through real improvements is breakdown not inevitable.

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