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The problem with calls to upgrade older residence halls

Time and time again, calls to upgrade or renovate older campus buildings arise. The buildings of Massell, North and East Quads are well over 50 years old, and obviously they show their age. The even older Castle Quad is set to close in a few months due to the effects of the years. In the warm times of year, the conditions are almost unbearably hot because the buildings in these quads lack air conditioners. Rooms there are equipped with individual radiators that make an exceptional amount of noise when they’re activated in the colder months. Although calls to have these areas upgraded have merit, they are almost impossible to fulfill due to the financial and environmental costs of doing so.

The biggest complaint out of Massell, North and East is that they are extremely uncomfortable to live in when the weather is hot. I wholeheartedly agree; having lived in Massell myself two years ago, it was tough to tolerate the hot and humid building and room temperatures in August, September and May. Although I’ve never lived in North or East, I’ve experienced how uncomfortable they can be. There have been calls to equip the quads with air conditioning for these reasons, but unfortunately that would be simply infeasible if not impossible.

One proposed solution that would kill two birds with one stone—that is, both the air conditioning and the radiator issues—is a central air system like in the Village, Ridgewood and Ziv. The problem with this solution is that central air systems are supposed to be incorporated into plans and built into buildings beforehand, rather than after the fact. The university would have to completely tear apart each residence hall and rebuild them to be able to incorporate central air systems and ductwork; Brandeis may as well just raze the quads and rebuild them from scratch, as is the plan for the Castle. So unless the plan is to rebuild every aging quad, which obviously would take significant financial and time commitments, let’s toss this proposed solution.

Another proposed solution is to install external air conditioning units in each individual room. Although this would not require tearing apart the residence halls, the financial and environmental costs would be catastrophic and would be completely antithetical to Brandeis’ commitment to being an environmentally cleaner campus. Such an endeavor would put an immense toll on electrical demand, costing the university huge amounts of money. This is not to mention the environmental toll such an increase in demand would cost and that could be exacted by running so many units. With these financial and environmental factors taken into consideration, let’s also throw out this proposed solution.

If there is to be change in the older areas of campus, attention must be turned in more creative directions.

The most environmentally friendly way to tackle the issue of cooling older residence halls would be to stay away from air conditioning units altogether, as no matter what we do, the chemicals within units will still, in one way or another, contribute to environmental issues.

So what do we do? Although it’s not imperative that something be done about the most common complaint for residence of older quads, there are things that can be done, especially in the simply designed Massell and North. Both quads feature simple buildings that have one hallway per floor that ends at a window by a stairwell; it wouldn’t hurt to have a reasonably large fan on each level installed into a part of the window on each floor that could be turned on at night to blow in cooler air. In East, although the layout is far more complex than in Massell and North, there are certain common areas on each floor where a fan could be installed.

Such a solution would not significantly alter the conditions of these buildings during the warmer times of the school year, but they would at the very least circulate cooler air through the residence halls without a significant financial and environmental cost. Another similar solution would be to install energy efficient air conditioning and heating units in place of the fans, but again, the financial toll would be higher.

There is always a solution to complaints coming out of aging quads, but sometimes the propositions are so grandiose that they overshoot and bear no results as a consequence of being so outlandish. Advocacy for elevators and central air conditioning systems in aging quads may garner significant support, but they’re just not going to happen. If we want to advocate for any type of change, we need to think creatively in ways that can ameliorate issues in a feasible way, rather than completely fix issues in an outlandish way. Maybe then we can cease the endless parade of complaints and actually begin a series of real quality improvements.

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