Beechert: Digging for Compliments

by Michael Beechert | 7/24/14 8:54pm

Apparently the windows in the Hopkins Center are being replaced because they hemorrhage heat like the College does money. After completion, students and visitors will be able to overlook the Green through windows that, while identical in appearance to their predecessors, are more energy efficient. Such technology, of course, could be fiscally beneficial as well as environmentally friendly — energy efficiency cuts down on the monthly bill by reducing consumption. For those who would like to see the College make intelligent financial decisions, this renovation could be good news provided that the projected savings generated by the new energy efficient windows exceed the cost of construction. As reported in The Dartmouth on July 22, however, the College could not provide figures for either the cost of the project or the estimated savings it will generate. One can reasonably infer that the replacement of the Hopkins Center’s windows is not projected to save enough money to merit the construction costs. I would be thrilled to be informed otherwise.

The general lack of transparency surrounding the cost of this project is reason enough for frustration. Like all endeavors funded by the College’s facilities budget, the window replacement is paid for, in part, by tuition dollars. If this expenditure and others like it were supported completely by private donations, it would be unnecessary for the College to release cost figures. Yet families paying tuition deserve to know how their money is spent. Moreover, it should not be necessary to have to request this information at all. A detailed breakdown of the project’s projected costs should be made public as a part of any press release. The College would satisfy the right of tuition-paying families to see the fruits of the substantial checks they send. As an added bonus, it would also discourage wasteful or excessive spending by subjecting the College’s expenditures to public scrutiny.

Even if the College will not disclose the financial specifics of its construction endeavors, one would hope that, in private, Dartmouth has begun to allocate its construction budget wisely after it blew $41 million renovating the Hanover Inn. Replacing perfectly functional windows at high cost, however, is not a fiscally worthy project if there is no significant anticipated financial benefit. Assuming from the College’s silence on the matter that this replacement may not be financially sound, what, then, could be the College’s motivation? While the College spending money simply for the sake of it might not be outside the realm of possibility, perhaps Dartmouth simply wishes to present itself as eco-friendly.

However admirable, one can imagine other less expensive and less intrusive ways to chip away at energy consumption, like cutting down the number of lights that are left on around the clock. But doing so, of course, would not be as flashy an approach. Thus, it is likely that the College is looking to generate some small amount of positive, green publicity for itself by undertaking the project. But when there exists the possibility of financial loss in order to bring about meager improvements, the costs of the windows become difficult to justify.

That said, other projects would justify a dip into the facilities budget. Certain dormitories on this campus, particularly the Choates and River clusters, are barely suitable for human habitation. At the very least, they could use a substantial facelift. Ideally, both clusters would be torn down and replaced with buildings that the College could actually display in an admissions pamphlet. The music facilities in the Hopkins Center — which, incidentally, are located in the building’s basement and therefore have no windows of which to speak — are both ugly and largely insufficient. Acting on these projects would satisfy current students and attract potential applicants. Prospective students don’t care about whether the Hop’s windows are energy efficient, but they do want living quarters that won’t welcome them to campus with mold-induced illnesses. Such projects, which would produce more tangible results as well as generate positive publicity for the College, would be a wiser investment.