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Housing increases beds, overlooks facility updates

When Carnegie Mellon Housing & Residential Education Services sent a survey to its students in 2018, there was a lot to cover. Bob Reppe, the Senior Director of Planning & Design, walked through the survey — and what came of it — in an interview with The Tartan. Essentially, Housing wanted to know: “If you’re not living on campus, why?”

Housing suspected that, if feedback was appropriately internalized, 600-800 more students might live on campus. One of the biggest detractors, Reppe noted, was unit type. Upperclassmen were uninterested in sharing a bathroom with 29 other students. Instead, they preferred semi- and regular suite layouts that offered greater privacy, with a common room, individual bathrooms, and (in the case of regular suites) kitchens. On this front, Housing delivered.

Fifth and Clyde debuted this fall, welcoming 264 students to luxurious apartment-style housing. Gone was the traditional dorm setup. The shared floor bathroom — which Reppe attributed to successful first-year bonding — was borne from the building’s design. Forbes and Beeler Apartments, which is set to open in Fall 2023, will follow a similar plan.

According to a Community Advisor (CA) employed by Residential Education (ResEd) who asked to remain anonymous, Fifth and Clyde was designed to have alternating blue and green carpeting on each floor. When all floors were covered in blue, the dorm’s opening was delayed to replace half of the blue carpeting with green. Some students are frustrated by superficial expenses like these. “No student would have given a shit," said the CA. "It was a waste of carpet.”

Tom Cooley, the Executive Director of Housing Services & Space Planning, would disagree. “There is a lot more carpeting on campus than Housing might want,” he said in an interview with The Tartan. But, he continued, “Students want … to walk in their bare feet. Generally, student feedback was: we want carpeting everywhere.”

Fifth and Clyde and Forbes and Beeler are ushering in a new era of Carnegie Mellon Housing. Robin Kuo, the CA of Fifth and Clyde’s inaugural ResEd staff, described the marketing surrounding the buildings: huge, shiny, and “quite frankly a little bit extra.”

Kuo acknowledged that new dorms are necessary to solve capacity problems amidst growing enrollment. “But at the same time,” she said, “what good is it to up your numbers when nobody wants to live in all your other spaces?”

These “other spaces” include Donner and Mudge Houses, which have seen bouts of flooding, and Margaret Morrison Apartments' unwarranted fire alarm triggers. Donner struggles to consistently supply sufficient hot water in the building. Housing conducted a physical assessment on its residence buildings, color-coding dorm spaces based on their conditions. The aforementioned examples likely characterize red spaces. Stever House, Reppe offered, is green.

When asked why Housing is investing in new buildings rather than enhancing old ones, Cooley explained that it was not an “or” situation; it was an “and” situation. They are meeting increasing capacity needs while simultaneously making changes to older dorms, according to Cooley.

When asked about plans for refurbishments in Donner, a dorm known for less-than-ideal facilities, Cooley said it “is in the master plan with no date. Donner is still being evaluated,” and Housing has yet to decide “what the next steps are.”

During training, ResEd staff is introduced not just to amenities but the structural issues that come with them, according to Kuo. “It feels a little bit strange that [Housing is] saying: ‘These are the kinks of these buildings and you are going to have to work around them.’”

The discrepancy between new buildings and their aging counterparts is not lost on the anonymous CA interviewed for the article. “Everyone stuck in the old dorms is like: ‘Well what the fuck? We just want air conditioning and garbage disposals in the sinks.’”

Cooley noted that Housing recently received similar feedback when discussing plans for Fifth and Clyde. “Students said they didn’t care about amenities,” he said. Instead, they wanted natural light, which boosts serotonin levels and helps prevent seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Now, students walk into Fifth and Clyde enshrouded by sunlight, with direct access everywhere on the first floor.

Overall, Housing is working on a wide range of projects. Henderson House and Residence on Fifth will be re-carpeted, Clyde House repainted. Fairfax Apartments will be offline for the 2022-2023 academic year to accommodate facilities updates and new amenities. Housing is planning to include a grocery store on the first floor of Forbes and Beeler, similar to Forbes Street Market on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus.

“We’re doing a complete gut of Scobell House,” Reppe stated. Cooley enumerated the changes: complete renovation of bathrooms (which will now be all-gender, following the Stever 5th floor precedent), implementation of air conditioning, and remodeling of the kitchen space.

Student feedback has also called for water fountains on each dorm floor, more water bottle fill stations, and ample carpeting. These examples, according to Cooley, highlight the important relationship between Housing and students. He pointed to the Student Dormitory Council (SDC) as the main source of dialogue. “SDC, the voice of our students, is important to us.”