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I think we were all shocked when the College of William and Mary announced its plan to transform 80% of campus housing and dining facilities by 2032. For some of you, I’m sure this surprise was a welcome one. It’s no secret that many of our dorms are less than ideal. To be clear: I know that our school needs to be renovated. I actually like the new plan, overall. I want dining halls with layouts that are conducive to efficiency and food safety. I want to make sure that no other freshman has to suffer through September without AC. And, as an avid environmentalist (I once cried at Tribe Truck because I forgot to pack reusable cutlery), I’m thrilled to see the school taking long-term energy efficiency and sustainability into account.
Even so, the sudden announcement left me feeling angry, stressed and cheated. Like many students, I enrolled at the College in part because of its reputation as a peaceful campus. The University of Virginia was originally my first choice, but I realized I wouldn’t be happy surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a bigger city. I was willing to deal with dated buildings if it meant I got to live somewhere beautiful and quiet. That was a tradeoff I was prepared for. So, I was a little dismayed to find out that the remainder of my college experience would be dominated by wrecking balls, roped-off walkways and more of the endless, incessant beeping that I thought would finally end with the Art Center’s completion.
This is where I take issue with the renovation: current students committed to the College before they were informed about the extensive disruptions they would have to face.
To be fair, I am a bit biased. As a neurodivergent student, two of my least favorite things are (a) unexpected changes and (b) loud noises. My brain is not built to be surrounded by construction. I actually have ADA housing accommodations for a single dorm room, in part because my sensory hypersensitivity makes it almost impossible to sleep when someone else is in the room. Even so, I really don’t think my concerns are neurodivergent-exclusive. I can’t be alone when I say that I don’t want to spend college surrounded by the sweet serenade of jackhammers.
I’m lucky enough to live in Hardy Hall—known by word of mouth as an “accessibility dorm”—meaning that I won’t be kicked out of my ADA housing assignment. But I’m worried about how the project will impact other students with accommodations. Old Dominion Hall, home to almost 50 single rooms, is among the first set of buildings slated for renovation. Where will these students live until renovations are complete? Additionally, the Ludwell apartments will be released from contract during Phase 2, seemingly without plans to construct new apartment-style dorms. What will happen to students who need extra space to accommodate a service animal, or students with severe allergies who need access to a non-communal kitchen?
To make matters worse, the finished project won’t even increase housing or dining capacity: the facilities may be nicer, but they won’t be bigger. The College claims this new plan will “support the integration of living & learning”, ignoring the fact that students are already being driven off campus by bedspace shortages. Did we somehow forget the disaster that was 2022-23 housing registration? Our school is already overcrowded, and Williamsburg apartments aren’t cheap. As rental rates rise, upperclassmen may be pushed farther and farther into the suburbs. This hardly seems in line with the “living & learning” philosophy.
I appreciate that the school is trying to account for logistical problems by staging the plan in phases, but any project of this scale is bound to have unforeseen delays. Even the planned temporary housing/dining capacity reductions could cause problems for students. For example, Marketplace dining will be demolished during Phase 1. Until the Campus Center is reconstructed in Phase 2, any undergraduates living in the Graduate Complex—of which there are quite a few—will have a 20-minute walk to the nearest dining facility. Now is a good time to remind you that sophomores aren’t allowed to have cars on campus.
I know that many of these renovations are necessary. Our dining staff need to have spaces where they can prepare food safely. Students need AC. But it was disingenuous of the school to drop these plans on students so suddenly. It wouldn’t be an issue if students knew about these major changes before deciding to enroll, but many of us chose the College because we expected a quiet, idyllic college experience. It seems like a bait-and-switch to unexpectedly force current students to put up with years of construction.
Luckily, the administration has several options to remedy their oversight. By pushing the start date to 2026, every student on campus can be informed about the project before they commit to the College. Alternatively, the college could extend its renovation timeline to reduce the number of facilities under construction at any given time, thereby reducing the strain on students. Or, at the very least, students could be provided with a more democratic opportunity to voice our concerns. After all, this campus is our home. I think we deserve a say in its future. You can petition our administration at this link: https://www.change.org/delay-WM-demolition
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Excellent points, many current students chose W&M for the beautiful campus that it is. I am sure some even chose it for its consistent building style. Hopefully, whatever renovations that are done will be tasteful and consistent with the beautiful “public ivy” feel that exists today.
The administration should pause to seek additional student and faculty input. Perhaps they could start small and give the dining staff the resources they need to improve the food at W&M. Then build on that success to improve housing without destroying the charm of this centuries old institution.
The Arts Center and Hearth Memorial are examples of what the renovation should not look like. Sustainability and beauty are not mutually exclusive goals. Take the time to get this right. Do not destroy the look and feel of one of the most beautiful college campuses in America.