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Despite Waltham Historical Commission’s vote to delay, univ. plans to begin Castle construction on time

Castle demolition will be delayed by one year after a unanimous vote of the Waltham Historical Commission (WHC) on March 15. Brandeis announced plans to renovate the Usen Castle in January, but had not planned to begin demolition until spring or summer 2017. 

Moving forward, the university will “continue our dialogue with the historical commission,” Interim President Lisa Lynch told The Brandeis Hoot after the meeting. 

The commission will not issue a “demolition permit” for 12 months, unless Brandeis and the city of Waltham can reach an agreement before that time. The university still plans to begin construction on time if the issues with Waltham can be worked out, said Vice President for Operations Jim Gray in an email to The Hoot. 

If an agreement cannot be reached in a year, then “On March 14, 2017 Brandeis will be able to obtain a demolition permit and move forward with their project as proposed,” wrote Clarence Richardson, chair of the commission in an email to The Hoot. 

After failures of both the internal and external structure in 2013 and 2014, the university began conducting studies and surveys to determine how to best preserve the Castle. They found moisture damage and decided to add scaffolding and wrapping on the tops of the buildings to catch falling materials. Safety issues have forced students to vacate sections of the Castle during this time. 

The plans involve tearing down all but Towers A and B, and were made after considering several other plans, some of which involved preserving the entire Castle. This entails building a 160-bed residence, which will be up to modern standards of accessibility and energy efficiency and will bring Brandeis closer to their goal of housing 90 percent of students, as opposed to 80 percent as of now. When on-campus housing falls short of need, this forces some students to move off-campus which can artificially inflate rent prices in Waltham and take housing away from other Waltham residents, said Brandeis representatives.

The university’s main arguments in favor of demolition include the “prohibitive” costs of preserving the Castle in its entirety and the need for the university to take a proactive approach to housing constraints on campus. University speakers also emphasized the preservation of “iconic” Towers A and B, which are the tallest and most visible from the streets of Waltham, Lynch explained. 

Several other members of the Brandeis administration spoke at the WHC meeting including Gray, who stated the university prioritizes educational spending over the “luxury housing game” which Gray said other universities play. Brandeis must prioritize its academic mission and ensure there is money for scholarships and professors’ salaries, said Grady Ward ’16, a representative to the Board of Trustees who was a Community Advisor in the Castle last year. 

The proposed renovations will cost an estimated $37 million, in addition to the over $1.6 million Brandeis spent in the past two years on temporary repairs. The estimated cost of retaining the existing Castle structure it its entirety is between $80 and $90 million, over $35 million more than Brandeis’ proposal. Preserving the entire Castle would require the building 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,” said Gray in a January interview with The Hoot.

However, the historical commission does not consider the cost of preservation, only whether the structure deserves to be preserved, said commission member Marie Daly. A guide for applicants presenting to the commission informs them to relay any “economic justification for demolition.” 

The commission also raised the possibility of preserving the Castle’s facade and renovating interiors, but Brandeis representatives said this would difficult and expensive based on how much the exterior has deteriorated. Others asked if Brandeis has considered using the Castle for something other than housing and building new residence halls on university green space or parking lots. Campus green space is “cherished,” said Gray and Brandeis already struggles to fulfill its parking needs.

Usen Castle, though part of the Brandeis campus, is an important community landmark for some Waltham residents, including commission members and others who spoke or attended Monday’s meeting. 

Other criticisms of the plan to demolish the Castle has come from the alumni-led “Build a Bigger Damn Castle” petition, signed by 732 supporters, which argues that Castle demolition should only be considered if the university intends on building a larger one. “We expect the university to maintain the Castle quad’s whimsical, medieval character in any new construction,” the petition states. Another Brandeis alum, Edmund Tarallo ’04 spoke in favor of preserving the Castle on Monday.

Demolition is set to begin after the Spring 2017 semester, as outlined in the proposed timeline listed in the filing. Students will be living in the castle in the Fall 2016 semester, moving out before construction begins.

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