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Loss of Castle can push forth new residence halls

In two separate emails welcoming students back to campus from both Interim President Lisa Lynch and Director of Operations Jim Gray, the inevitable is mentioned. They don’t shy away from saying how Usen Castle has reached a point in its life where it is “showing its age” and we have “reached a point where maintaining the status quo is not practical or sustainable for the long run.” Certainly the writing’s on the wall of the Castle that it will not last that long. Surprisingly enough, students have been allowed to live there despite the fact that some people were moved out of the Castle last year after their rooms were deemed unsafe.

If, as Jim Gray alluded to in his email, the Castle is no longer used as a residence hall, that would leave 120 students without a room. Since housing is guaranteed for the first two years at Brandeis, the sophomores who would have lived in the Castle have to be placed somewhere else, creating the need for another 120 beds, otherwise forcing even more upperclassmen to seek off-campus housing.

These facts are undeniable, and the administration and Board of Trustees are most likely working up plans to at least maintain the status quo when it comes to campus housing. Yet what needs to occur is not simply keeping up the status quo, but actively improving the quantity, and quality, of on-campus housing.

The most recent addition to campus housing options was the Ridgewood Quad, which was completed in 2009. Six years later, there is no real talk of adding another residential building, and with the need for more options extremely present, starting a new project would probably take a few years to complete if started today, given the time it takes to design, acquire space and build a brand new quad. That would mean that the time between opening the two newest residence halls would be about 10 years.

A popular quote that gets thrown around the Internet states that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is now. Sure, it would be extremely convenient if there were already plans to replace the aging castle, while adding even more rooms for students, in progress. If so, there wouldn’t be an upcoming gap where some students would have the disadvantage of attending Brandeis when there were less available rooms in years past. But that opportunity has passed, so the Board of Trustees, who really are in charge of the greater planning of the university, must now begin work on building new residence halls.

This needs to be actual plans to build, not just surveys into a possible new building. A few years ago, there were plans to build a parking garage structure where X-Lot currently stands, according to an April 2007 article in The Brandeis Hoot, yet that was never completed. Then in 2013, the Student Union sent out a survey to the campus community seeking insight to parking issues on campus. The responses to those were overwhelmingly in favor of the notion that there is not enough space on campus, and the construction of a parking garage would be welcome, but no one ever followed up on that survey.

Perhaps the need for more housing being far greater than the need for additional parking, especially in a time where we ought to be using vehicles less in order to lower carbon emissions, will push the board to get started on improving the campus quickly. And while part of the castle will likely stay in order to maintain the iconicism for the school, unused land will have to be developed in order to shoulder the load of housing at least 200 students. The wooded area that is surrounded by the library, Chapels Field and the Heller School certainly provides enough space for a residential area that could house the displaced students from the Castle. Currently, there is absolutely nothing in there, save for a few makeshift shortcuts people have created over the years.

The problem of funds is also a concern, and with the financial collapse of the late 2000s creating a large downfall in funding for the university, the construction boom of that time has certainly slowed down. Now eight years later, the economy has recovered somewhat, as has the university’s endowment. Tuition has risen regardless of the economy, so lack of funds should not be seen as an excuse.

While living off-campus has its benefits and luxuries, the majority of students who live off-campus now would probably choose to live on-campus if it were available. The convenience and security of living on-campus is simply too good to pass up. More so, improving the quality of the campus with a brand new residence hall will only provide benefits, as it would attract more students with a flashier building. More applicants begets better statistics for incoming first-years, which in turn begets better rankings and a greater reputation for the school.

Brandeis provides a great education and community. Its time for the facilities here to match that. And although the castle might be lost as a residence hall, it should not be closed down in vain. Hopefully it creates the spark and drive for the board of trustees to start improving the campus both quantitatively and qualitatively.

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