Building W1, formerly Ashdown House, closed on August 15 as workers prepared to renovate it into an undergraduate dormitory. Actual construction will not begin until the building is inspected and cleaned up, according to Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75.
Currently, workers are checking the plumbing, electricity, heating, and ventilation systems, and old iron radiators are being removed, said Karen A. Nilsson, Senior Associate Dean for Residential Life. Workers are also looking through the building to see what needs updating, and inspecting exterior features such as the brick, mortar, and windows.
The detailed inspections are necessary since the building is over 100 years old. “We don’t know what people have done to it,” Clay said. “Somebody might have put up false walls or covered up fire escapes … we might have more room than we think,” he said.
There are still no official estimates of how much the renovations will cost, or when construction will start. After the design phase, the construction job will be put up for bid, according to Clay. “Nothing is finalized until we sign a contract,” he said.
Ashdown House was originally a hotel that opened in 1901, and was converted into graduate housing in the late 1930s. Plans to convert it into an undergraduate residence have been in the works for years. Finally, last spring and summer, the eleven students of the W1 founders group met with architects to advise them about the design.
Karl F. Wolff ‘11, interim president of NW35, said that students have been able to influence the design process. “We have given feedback, and we have been heard,” he said. “Most of the time [the administration] listens to it, but it will be a while before we see if they took it seriously.”
Student voices, however, have not always been heard. W1 will have a central dining hall, which students had protested.
“We pushed really hard for kitchens,” said Karl F. Wolff ‘11, interim president of NW35. But now, according to Nilsson, “That discussion has ended.”
Now the Phoenix Group, the fifty or so undergraduates currently living in NW35 who will eventually move to W1, is planning on writing the W1 constitution. They also hope to influence building modifications to preserve the positive aspects of NW35, including wide hallways and some painted walls.
DormCon president James Torres ‘10 is working to support the Phoenix Group, and looks forward to hearing from Wolff at the next DormCon meeting. He recognizes that they are “trying to kick-start a culture in a dorm” and can benefit from advice from other dorms, hearing what worked and what hasn’t.
“They’re new to this and other dorms can give them advice,” Torres said. “We want to help them get on their feet.”
The Phoenix Group will have to decide whether they want floor culture, a style adopted by Burton-Conner and East Campus, or dorm culture, like that of Baker and Simmons. Torres is pushing for floor culture in W1, but, he says, “As long as the founders group is happy, I would go along with it. … In the end, they are the ones who will be living there.”