Muir Remodel Favors Aesthetics Over Function

    There is no question: When it comes to stylish decor, the newly remodeled Tioga residence hall clearly outclasses the decades-old interior of its sister Tenaya. But the residents of John Muir College’s Tenaya Hall need not worry — they live in the building that has what really counts: functionality.

    The Tioga remodel, though sparkly and new, was poorly planned and executed. Many second-year residents, house advisers and Muir resident councilmembers have already voiced their criticism. Addressing the issue of complaints in an e-mail, Mark Cunningham, director of Housing and Dining Services, stated, “The functionality of some of the remodeled space and some of the new furniture would describe a large portion of the concerns which were brought to me and the need for student involvement.”

    Although the lack of student involvement in such projects has been a big issue, no students were invited to participate in the renovation planning committee.

    What is especially frustrating about the renovation is that many of the new “improvements” are less practical than the originals. For example, the bathrooms used to have a central drain, but this is now gone — the smaller stall drains cannot properly drain the water, which reportedly pools on the floor. The post-remodel bathroom doors don’t lock, which has raised questions about the safety of lone showering students. It could be reasoned that a showering student could simply lock the suite door; however, the new suite doors also seem to be a safety concern as well, since many doorknobs have already fallen off.

    The bathrooms seem to be particularly troublesome. For example, the once-large toilet paper dispensers have been replaced by smaller, yet more stylish, ones. Although these new dispensers are cute, one tiny dispenser’s worth of paper doesn’t last 13 people an entire week. Meanwhile, the old copper piping was left alone to leak for another 20 years.

    Another less pragmatic adjustment was the method of ordering new furniture. The committee based its lounge-furniture design off of the bottom-loor lounge; however, that lounge is significantly smaller than all of the others. Because the committee didn’t take this extra space into account, the majority of house lounges are inadequately furnished. With a record-breaking number of students, lounges need more seating space, not less. The list goes on, as examples such as these are apparent in every aspect of the modernized space from bedrooms to bathrooms to common rooms.

    Besides the apparent ridiculousness of many of the changes, H&DS didn’t take into account the importance of longevity. The couches in Tenaya residence hall are probably older than most of the students — because remodels are meant to be long-lasting. It’s not every summer that an entire Muir residence hall is essentially gutted and renewed. Much of Tioga’s furniture is cheap and disposable, and hardly stands a chance against the regular wear and tear of rowdy college freshmen. Sure, the new desk chairs are space-agey and cool, but the thin plastic will never hold up for the next 30 years. There are already cracks in multiple fiberglass shower stalls.

    So why were these cheaper materials chosen?

    H&DS certainly isn’t short on dough. With a record-breaking number of new freshmen living on campus this year, H&DS is raking in the chips. Although costs for the remodel are still being finalized, according to Cunningham, there is so much unexpected revenue from incoming freshmen that Muir students alone should have financed the remodel with money to spare.

    With a record-high number of incoming freshmen, 147 double rooms in Muir are being used as new “plus one” triple rooms. Even ignoring the 160 or so unexpected Muir freshmen living in Revelle, that’s an extra 147 people’s worth of housing payments. Cunningham’s stated explanation is that “our goal is always to make all non-regular spaces as close to ‘revenue neutral’ — we discount the room portion to all occupants of the triple equally and that amount is based on all the estimated costs we incur in providing these unanticipated extra beds.” But this explanation doesn’t hold water — unlike Muir’s new shower stalls.

    The H&DS Web site estimates the cost of living in an on-campus double to be $8,200 per student, per year. This comes out to $16,400 revenue per double unit. Because there are now three students living in this same space, the H&DS fee is lowered by $500 for each student living in the “plus one” triple room. After subtracting this $1,500, the “plus one” rooms generate $23,100 each. This is an extra $6,700 per triple room. With 147 of these rooms set up through Muir, the total is $984,900 in extra income from these residents alone.

    Keep in mind that this revenue was entirely unanticipated. The remodel was planned and set into action long before enrollment numbers were finalized. Therefore, there is no way that this money has already been spent. Since no extra space was added, we can assume there isn’t a substantial increase in cleaning or maintenance services to pay for. Then it appears that the extra beds purchased for students must be made of gold, since 147 simple dorm beds cost H&DS nearly $1 million.

    Even by the most conservative measure, it’s clear that the abundance of triple rooms generated a hefty excess revenue. And if the bulk of the interior Tioga residence hall is flimsy and already falling apart, how is this money really being spent?

    Cunningham was unavailable for comment before press time.

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