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Senior House Unhappy with Changes

By Kai-yuh Hsiao

Major summertime renovations to Senior House have left many returning residents pining for a return to their old dormitory.

"They did a nice job for the most part, but Ithink Ispeak for most of the house when Isay that we'd rather have the old house back," said Sean P. Robinson '99.

"It's been pretty traumatic. Ifeel like half the man Iused to be," said Senior House President Christopher H. Barron '97. "Ithink the most dramatic effect of all the changes is that I've been sober ever since the beginning of classes. It's too clean. It doesn't feel like a place where you can get drunk and puke on a Thursday anymore."

The renovations involved the complete gutting of the inside of the building. Before the renovations, Senior House was divided into six separate entryways; during the summer, the walls were knocked down, and the entryways were connected to form continuous halls.

All of the walls in the dormitory were replaced, and the murals that residents had painted on them are gone. The interior of the entire dormitory was redesigned, and a new elevator was installed near the main lobby area.

Bugs and kinks' still being fixed

As with any new building, there were "a few bugs and kinks"to be straightened out initially, said Senior House Housemaster Henry Jenkins.

One main problem involved the water system, which until its repair last week was not producing enough hot water to supply the entire building during peak shower periods, Jenkins said.

Another problem that surfaced two weeks ago was a badly installed valve in the fire sprinkler system. The valve failed to release air bubbles that developed in the system, which in turn led to two fire alarms in one day. Residents were evacuated and Cambridge fire trucks were called in both times.

Some students complained that the elevator has been stopping at random times. At one point, Robinson was stuck in the elevator for 45 minutes.

The elevator "went up, made a loud noise, and stopped," Robinson said. He was "a little annoyed" and said that "the guy who answered the [emergency] phone didn't know the elevator was operational yet."

"It's another sign of how they're trying to kill us,"Robinson said, who also cited to the newly-installed flammable drywall as another example.

Renovations prompt formal policy

Since the renovations, administrators have formalized several pre-existing informal rules at Senior House.

One of the primary concerns of many residents was the mural-painting policy. Residents were prevented from painting murals until after a specific policy could be written up, Barron said.

The new system is very similar to the old one; a petition signed by residents near the mural site must be submitted to the house manager, Barron said. The difference is that the new policy had to be written up and made official.

The policy on painting inside rooms is in a similar situation. Residents who want to paint their rooms must sign a contract stating that they will repaint them if future occupants dislike the artwork. As with the mural-painting policy, the policy on room painting had to be formalized.

There is also a new smoking policy that states that residents can set up non-smoking areas on their floors.

One of the biggest disagreements between administrators and students is the roof access policy. Residents used to use the ends of the roof as a balcony of sorts, but they are now prohibited from doing so because of the new roofing materials, Barron said.

"The administration is not likely to give way" on this issue, Jenkins said.

Changes concern residents

Numerous residents expressed concerns that changes brought about by the renovations would include the near-complete destruction of their dormitory's traditional way of life.

Complaints centered for the most part around the new look of the building. Many residents are worried that Senior House now feels more like a west campus dormitory, a situation that many are not happy with.

"We hate it. It's pink and pastel and it has no character,"said Shauna M. Swaine '97.

"I think there's a conspiracy by the administration to turn Senior House into another Next House," said Michael B. Prior '97.

Upperclassmen also expressed some mild concerns about the character of the new freshman class. "The freshmen seem pretty much consistent with Senior House values, except for a few frosh who saw the pretty decor, thought this was McCormick Hall, and settled in," said James L. Waldrop '99.

For the most part, residents seem to accept the new freshman class and were pleased that Senior House was actually a top choice among freshmen in the housing lottery.

Previously, "it was a major feat to get a double-digit [number of] first-choicers. We'd get people who'd move in and never unpack. We definitely got a few people who were more interested in the building than in our culture, though," Barron said.

The renovations "provided the opportunity for a wider range of freshmen to consider Senior House," said Bernard C. Ramey '98.

Some people objected to the ways in which their social areas have been moved and changed. "There is no central location for people to gather anymore. People used to gather in the desk and in the courtyard. Now the TVroom's in the basement. Nobody likes to hang out in the basement," said Sara K. Copeland '99.

Not all people are unhappy with the changes, though. "It's new. I like it. Nice rooms. We're enjoying them,"Ramey said.With the walls between entryways down, the whole house was more open and social, he said.

"The people who don't like [the changes] are probably more vocal," Ramey said.

Students had a chance to have their say

Jenkins wondered if residents who disagreed with the renovations participated in the biweekly meetings held during last school year.

Some of the conspiracy theories and accusations of "cultural genocide" put forth by residents against the changes were "laughable propositions" since residents had the opportunity to provide input at the biweekly meetings, Jenkins said.

Administrators "listened in these meetings to try to preserve [Senior House] culture," Jenkins said.One example of this was the hallway structure, which twists and turns instead of going perfectly straight, he said.

Traditions always change, and even though the building was new, "the old Senior House is alive and well and living at 70 Amherst Street," Jenkins said, referring to the dormitory's address change from the old 4 Ames Street.

Complaints will subside as residents adapt and Senior House culture is gradually restored, said housemaster Cynthia Jenkins. The colors on the walls will soon be painted over, she said.

Even though some finishing touches were put on the house after residents moved in, some work remains to be done. Much of it has been postponed until next summer in order to keep noise levels down for the residents, she said.