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University should be aware of student needs despite construction

| Forum Editor

After 48 hours of festivities and opening ceremonies, the Gary M. Sumers Recreation Center has finally been christened as the newest building on Washington University’s campus. Tens of millions of dollars, two years of partial closures, a presidential debate and a few patched renovations later, the student body has been rewarded for their patience. Or have we? A part of me wants to be really excited about the new facilities and gym equipment I have access to, but I can’t help but think that this construction project is emblematic of a larger issue pervading the Danforth Campus.

This weekend marked the first time that I will have access to a fully working gym on campus. After two years in the old gym, I can’t describe how thrilled I am to not have to set foot in there ever again. But it’s hard to ignore what the student body put up with to get to this point. Our old weight room can only be described as an exercise dungeon, and we have had to adapt to gym closures (see the Varsity Gym last year), endless small construction projects (see the renovations in the old Athletic Complex over the past two years) and limited access to exercise spaces (see varsity team schedules in the weight room).

In of itself, the results of the AC construction are mixed for the current student body. But even if you think that this argument is invalid or at least weak in comparison to the benefits that future students will reap, this isn’t an isolated incident. In my four years at Wash. U., I will have also gone through the construction of the new Umrath House, the renovation of the Olin Library, the East End construction (coming for my senior year) and the AC project. That’s an average of one major construction project a year, and each has had a significant impact on my life at Wash. U. And while you may initially resort to arguing that these buildings are all a part of a better Wash. U. “future,” it’s inexcusable that any Wash. U. class should be that obstructed in their four years at school.

When Umrath was being built, any student living on the South 40 had to deal with a natural 7 a.m. alarm clock set by the beginning of morning construction. Without Olin, there’s no coffee spot for students past 9 p.m. on Danforth Campus. Without the East End parking spaces, juniors and seniors will only be able to park on the South 40, making off-campus housing past Skinker Boulevard much more isolated from the far side of campus. And finally, during AC construction, the gym became a constant traffic jam, forcing me to constantly adapt my workout schedule (ignoring the lack of recreation space when the Varsity Gym was renovated).

So what’s the takeaway here? Wash. U. isn’t just obstructing student life, which you expect from any construction on college campus. It is actively ignoring major concerns that students have (or “taking them into consideration” and then coming up with weak solutions) about construction. You can’t go through this much construction and not wonder if there is a better way to go about all of this. Like any student, I’m grateful that Wash. U. wants to have top-tier facilities for its community, but we should at least be having a conversation about what construction means for the entire campus.

There’s no great solution to the problem I am proposing, but I think the Olin Library presents a great case study for the administration to learn from. When it was announced that Wash. U. would be shutting down Whispers for the duration of Olin construction, they decided to extend Cafe Bergson hours enough for students to get an early evening coffee fix. But that’s not a great solution for students who stay on main campus late. There should have been a way to install a temporary coffee shop in Olin, or at least find a location on campus that could host a similar service for students who stay on campus till the early hours of the morning. That’s a feasible solution, one that acknowledges and tries to solve a problem that students face in their daily lives.