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Portions of Usen Castle to be torn down, with iconic sections preserved

By Emily Sorkin Smith and Hannah Schuster

Section: News

January 25, 2016

UPDATED 1/28

Parts of the iconic Usen Castle, a sophomore residence hall, will be torn down in the summer of 2017, according to an email from Interim President Lisa Lynch. Only Towers A and B, which include Chum’s Coffee House, are to remain standing.

Brandeis will build a new residence hall in place of the demolished towers to be completed by August 2018. It will house 160 students, a 60 percent increase in occupancy. The construction will cost an estimated $37 million, not including work to preserve Towers A and B.

The structure of the Castle has been in decline for years. Scaffolding covers portions of the structure and many residents have complained of inconsistent heating and water damage over the years.

The university’s plan aims to preserve the most iconic portions: the two tallest towers and Chum’s. Towers A and B are in the best condition, according to the email from Lynch, although they will still require significant renovation. The goal is for them to remain viable, although their long-term purpose has yet to be determined, said Jim Gray, the vice president for campus operations and co-chair of the Castle Advisory Group. The group will continue to plan the future of the structure, becoming more active as they now work with an architect to design the new building, said Gray. He did not yet know where the money to fund preservation of Towers A and B would come from.

Students will be able live in the Castle through the Fall 2016 semester. However, students who select Castle rooms in the upcoming lottery will be moved to different on-campus housing for the Spring 2017 semester.

First and second-year students will continue to be guaranteed housing at Brandeis, with first-year housing options remaining the same. With the over 100 Castle beds no longer available, sophomores will be able to select certain upperclassman housing options, according to Jim Gray.
Juniors and seniors are not guaranteed on-campus housing, and so until the new residence hall opens, fewer upperclassman will be able to live on campus.

The university considered many options for the Castle, according to Gray, including the possibility of a renovation that would preserve the structure in its entirety. This option, they decided, would not be feasible because a renovation of this scale required compliance with modern standards and codes, such as those set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires elevators, for example.

Attempting to renovate the Castle and meet the standards would have been many times the cost of the proposed construction and would have cut down on the liveable space inside the Castle, said Gray. To preserve the entire Castle, the towers would “have to be almost taken apart and put back together again, which is so laborious and difficult as to make the cost way out of reach,” he said.

The new building will have single and double rooms. It will also “meet modern standards of student living and energy efficiency and would be designed to allow full accessibility,” according to Lynch’s email. It will have air conditioning, elevators and meet the LEED Gold Standard, at a minimum, according to Gray. Buildings earn points towards LEED certification based on the energy efficiency of their design, construction and maintenance. The Gold Standard is the second-highest level of certification, below Platinum. Brandeis pledged for all new buildings to meet the gold standard at minimum when it signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2009.

The Castle is an iconic building at Brandeis. U.S. News & World Report named it one of “8 Cool College Dorms” in 2010. It was however, “not built to the highest standards when constructed during the Great Depression, and it is understandably showing significant signs of advancing age,” according to Lynch.

“Renovations were inevitable given that the structural integrity of the Castle is, in some places, uncertain,” said Castle Quad Senator Max Whitmore ’18. Past residences have had problems with inconsistent heating and in some cases, collapsing roofs. In 2009, The Brandeis Hoot reported that Kiernan Bagge ’12 was in his Castle room when a piece of the ceiling fell onto his desk. He was reimbursed for the damage, but voiced his concerns about the inadequate handling of safety issues.

“Not only was the damage far from recent (the rebar mesh support was rusted to dust flakes), there was also mold damage in other sections of the Castle that required repair and caused inconvenience,” Bagge told The Brandeis Hoot.

Leaks from rain and melting snow have caused some rooms in the Castle to grow mold. Madi Samus ’17 and their roommates were forced to move from the Castle to Ziv Quad after “consistent complaints to Facilities.”

“One night in an attempt to control the leaks we went up to the Castle common room and took two large trash barrels to put underneath to catch the water. In the morning, the barrel in the common room was nearly half full,” Samus told The Hoot.

Though the leaking started in November, the students did not move out until March. “Although I appreciated not having to live in our Castle room, I would have preferred to have had the issue settled far earlier in the school year,” said Samus.

Chum’s is expected to remain open throughout construction. It is said to be the inspiration for Central Perk, the coffee shop depicted in the popular TV series “Friends,” written by two Brandeis alumni. Chum’s employs several student workers and is a popular hangout spot on the weekends. The Castle’s pottery studio, located in a small building off Schwartz residence hall, will not be saved.

Jack Holloman ’16, president of the pottery club, hopes the studio can find a new home on campus. He contacted Gray after hearing the news.

Holloman is planning on “asking around this semester for potential home of the future pottery club,” citing the Goldman-Schwartz art building or even remaining in a space in the Castle as potential ideas. He appreciates the space, even now, with its “quaint charm.”

“Although the worrisome condition of the Castle exists even in the pottery studio, that defines how I’ve come to know it and it wouldn’t seem right if the pottery studio reopened in a sparkling clean space,” Holloman said.

Generations of students have lived in or admired the Castle. However, Brandeis felt the structure’s present state demanded a response.

“I love the compromise that the board has struck because I love the structure and aesthetics of the building, but I am glad that students won’t be living there anymore as it is not a safe living environment,” said Samus.

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