Fireplace decision due in Jan.

by Ithan Peltan | 11/20/00 6:00am

A decision on the future use of private fireplaces in student rooms -- the use of which was banned last month -- may be reached by the end of January, according to Dean of Residential Life Marty Redman.

A committee assigned to make a recommendation on the issue will be convening for a brief first meeting prior to the end of Fall term. Redman and other residential life officials on the committee will join several students named by the Student Assembly.

Redman said Friday he hoped the committee could issue its recommendation by mid-January so the College could lay out a course of action by the end of month.

Options confronting the committee include renovating all the fireplaces to seal them off and render them unusable.

Redman said the group could go either way or could suggest that the College fix some fireplaces and close off others.

The College put a moratorium on the use of the 223 fireplaces located in dorm rooms around campus last month after the school's insurance company expressed serious concerns about safety.

Several issues raised in the insurance company's letter will receive attention from the committee, including the concern expressed by the insurance company that the fireplaces are unmonitored.

Redman said the committee will spend the largest proportion of its time discussing this concern and various steps the College could take to alleviate it.

"I think what [the insurance company] is saying is, 'How do we know that the people behind those locked doors are being responsible with the use of the fireplace,'" Redman said.

"It only takes one student who is negligent or who runs down the hall to go to the bathroom" for a log to roll out of a fireplace and a blaze to get started, he continued.

Fireplaces in common areas are less likely to go unmonitored, the reason their use has been allowed to continue, Redman said.

Any problems that arose in a common area fireplace would more quickly attract attention. In addition, Safety and Security officers can monitor the common area fires periodically.

Another topic the committee will address is how to pay for any renovations that would be necessary to bring the fireplaces up to code.

Not all of the fireplaces will need to undergo the same kinds of work to make them safe enough for continued use. The resulting variations in renovation cost could dictate which fireplaces the committee recommends disabling.

"While physically we can fix about anything, the issue becomes how much is it going to cost," Redman said, noting that next year's ORL budget is looking tight due to increases in per line phone costs.

Redman expressed personal concern about the risks posed to both student lives and College property by the fireplaces. Although he was careful to qualify the sentiment as his personal opinion, Redman said that he believes the continued use of fireplaces in individual dorm rooms would be "very, very dangerous."

Except for Harvard University, all other Ivy League institutions have already ended the use of private fireplaces in their residential facilities. Redman said that Harvard is currently considering taking action as well.