Academic buildings vie for worst on campus

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March 6, 2007

2:29 PM

Although The College is known for its beautiful Colonial-style architecture, the insides of many of the campus’s academic buildings are shabby and in a state of disrepair, sometimes causing danger to those who work and learn within them.

Rogers Hall, home of the chemistry department, is in such bad shape that a new facility, the Integrated Science Center, or ISC, is under construction to completely replace the aging and poorly ventilated building.

Associate Professor Gary Rice, also the chair of the chemistry department, listed the various problems with Rogers in an e-mail.

“Antiquated ventilation, eroding utilities, dilapidated furnishings, decaying lower division teaching labs and lack of research space for faculty and students are some of the primary reasons for needing the ISC,” he said.

Rice listed ventilation as the most significant problem.

“Chemists tend to work with numerous compounds that require appropriate ventilation,” he said.

Last semester, a compound that smells similar to natural gas created a scare when it was accidentally ventilated out of the building. Changes were made to the ventilation system to prevent this from occurring again; the design of the ISC should prevent similar incidents.

According to the College website, the ISC is slated for completion in December of this year. Rice added that after the ISC’s completion, most of Rogers will be renovated to house biology and psychology labs. There is also a plan to replace Millington Hall, home of the biology department, with a new building that also connects to the ISC.

Tucker Hall, home of the English department, is also in need of repairs.

“Of the buildings on old campus, I think Tucker is most in need of an update,” said Associate Professor and Chair of the English Department Jack Martin. According to Martin, there are parts of the building open to the elements. He said that the window in his office will not completely shut, and added that water runs into the Writing Resources Center in hard rain.

“The most common complaint is the smell of sewage. Sometimes we get cockroaches, but lately we’ve been getting ants. Some faculty complain about cold offices. Some feel the stairs are dangerous,” he said. “And then there’s that troublesome ghost on the third floor.”

Martin estimated that the building has not been seriously renovated since around 1980, when the Law School moved out. He also said that the faculty would like to see Tucker renovated even though it means “having to move all of their books out and back in again.”

Martin outlined the planned improvements. This summer the windows will be replaced, and Tucker is “in line to have the building gutted and renovated. The new plans call for an elevator,” he said. The lack of an elevator has meant that classes on the second and third floors must be moved when a student uses a wheelchair or breaks a leg — a major hassle that the new plans should eliminate.

Morton Hall, on the other side of campus, is perhaps the most infamous academic building on campus; students and faculty alike abhor attending and teaching classes in the building. Morton is home to many departments, including government and economics.

Clay Clemens, the Hamilton professor of government and associate chair of the department of government, was eager to discuss the poor conditions in Morton. He cited Morton as “the Units of the William & Mary classroom buildings,” and said that, even though “Housekeeping and Facilities Management do their level best, the task [of cleaning and repairing the building] would drive Sisyphus to despair.”

“The most common gripe is that it is still used for educational purposes at all rather than being employed as a maximum security prison, the purpose for which it is clearly better suited,” Clemens said. “As one colleague in another department put it, while some buildings are aesthetically unattractive but functional, and others aesthetically pleasing yet not functional, Morton is a unique combination of unaesthetic dysfunctionality.”

He complained about the elevator, saying that it “is so slow and unreliable there should be a timetable posted so you can plan your next departure well in advance,” and confirmed that part of the building is, in fact, sinking.

“Every semester some guy comes by, reads [a seismograph that measures Morton’s descent], and says, ‘Yep, she’s sinking,’” Clemens said.

The building’s confusing layout is also a problem. “At the beginning of each fall semester, we find freshmen who have wandered down one of the office corridors in search of an exit, just standing [and] staring in dumb disbelief at a solid wall,” he said.

Clemens described several minor renovations in the past few years, noting especially the most recent major renovation: last year, the area under the east wing of the building was found to have a person-sized gap underneath it due to the eroding foundation.

“Our floor was temporarily propped up by small jacks about the size of a bicycle pump, and one construction worker advised us against treading too heavily,” he said. “Fortunately over winter break last year they pumped in tons of fast setting liquid concrete and filled the cavern in.”

As for future renovations, Clemens says that “there is talk about renovating Morton 20, the dungeon-like classroom with no windows, a place where happy thoughts go to die.” He described Morton ever being rebuilt on more solid land as “an urban legend.”

He also commented on “that Morton smell,” a mystery to students for many years: it’s “rotting flesh from economics majors who died of boredom and were stuffed underneath the floors to prop the building up.”

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