Broken windows, missing showerheads and no kitchen: La Casa and SLC residents report substandard living conditions

The pandemic-induced labor shortage and supply chain issues delayed renovations on both dorms, which were supposed to be completed by the end of summer term.

by Pierce Wilson | 9/30/21 5:15am

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Disruptive construction is a regular complaint from students on campus. 

by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

La Casa resident Allan Rubio ’23 said that he did not hear anything about the construction going on until he received a GroupMe message from his undergraduate advisor — a few days before he was scheduled to fly to the U.S. from Thailand — that the house was “not quite ready” for students to move in.

Although Rubio did end up moving into La Casa on his scheduled move-in date, upon arrival, he found out that the house had no kitchen, no working washers and dryers, no showerheads on the showers in the bathroom and no working power outlets in his dorm room.

Ongoing renovation projects in two of the College’s standalone living learning communities, La Casa and the Sustainable Living Center — also known as North Hall — have resulted in safety hazards, inconveniences and noise disturbances for students living in them. Students living in the two LLCs reported that many basic necessities were lacking when they moved into their dorms at the beginning of the fall term. 

Another La Casa resident, Ivan Tochimani-Hernandez ’24, said that the house also had broken or screenless windows, mice and exposed wires. Additionally, Rubio noted that, at times, it feels like the house is “on a tilt” or “slanted” because things roll across their rooms and dresser drawers do not stay closed.

SLC resident Amanda Sun ’23 described a similar situation in her residence hall. She did not receive any official communication about the construction in the SLC prior to moving in, she said, adding that during her first week living in the house, the outlets were broken, the bathroom door had no lock and the kitchen had no fridge, dishwasher or sink.

According to project management services director Patrick O’Hern, construction on La Casa and the SLC, which began in the summer, was scheduled to be completed prior to fall term move-in dates. However, the renovation was delayed due to pandemic-induced supply chain issues and labor shortages. 

O’Hern said that contractors struggled to obtain the raw materials needed to complete construction projects this summer and had difficulties finding additional workers. 

“In years past, it was pretty easy to supplement crews when you needed to, but across the board in the Upper Valley, crews are stretched pretty thin,” O’Hern said. “We’ve felt the effects of that all across campus, even in some of our largest construction projects.”

According to O’Hern, the Irving Institute for Energy and Society and the Center for Engineering and Computer Science — which as of January were scheduled to be completed by the end of the summer, and as of May were slated for the end of fall — are now scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. Labor and supply chain issues have also caused delays in other projects, such as the ongoing Dartmouth Hall renovations, O’Hern added. 

O’Hern said that near the end of the summer, construction on both dorms reached a point where “life safety systems” — such as fire alarms, sprinklers and carbon monoxide detectors — were operational, which is why students were permitted to move in on schedule. However, there was “a longer punch list of things” that the College had hoped to complete prior to September, he added.

O’Hern added that construction projects in both dorms are currently scheduled to finish by the end of October. 

Tochimani-Hernandez said that the unfinished state of La Casa has also affected his sense of community and belonging in the house. 

“I was told that living in La Casa would be a lot of fun — that there would be weekly dinners and teas,” he said. “I was very excited about that, but since there’s no kitchen, a lot of the sense of community is gone too.”

In addition to the unfinished amenities in the SLC and La Casa, ongoing construction has also created disturbances for residents. 

According to O’Hern, construction is only permitted to take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but Sun said that construction on the SLC has started as early as 7 a.m. some days. 

Sun said that construction noise is “pretty loud” all day and has made it difficult for her to study in her room. She said that she has tried to Zoom office hours from her room a few times, but on those occasions she has had to move to another location due to the noise. 

Noise while living in La Casa has also been disruptive for Rubio and Tochimani-Hernandez.

“The moment the clock strikes 9 a.m., the construction starts with the loudest things, like hammers and drills,” Rubio said. 

Additionally, Rubio said that he is worried that the “large volumes” of dust and paint fumes in the house will affect his health. 

Tochimani-Hernandez said that he shares Rubio’s concerns about the fumes and dust, especially because he has preexisting respiratory health conditions. He added that as a result, he does not spend much time in La Casa — which has negatively impacted his academic habits. 

“I used to study in my dorm all [of] the time freshman year, but nowadays, I can’t go to my dorm unless it’s my last option,” he said. 

Sun said that the paint fumes coming off of the SLC have prompted one of the residents living in the house to move out . According to O’Hern, the College’s standard is to use “low VOC point,” which has reduced amounts of volatile organic compounds, is safer and emits less gas. He added that he hasn’t heard any concerns about the paint fumes and dust.

Sun and Rubio also both raised concerns about construction workers not wearing masks when they were working inside. O’Hern noted that Dartmouth requires all contractors to abide by the College’s indoor masking mandate.  

Rubio said that throughout the term, Maria Clara De Greiff, the faculty member in residence for La Casa, has encouraged residents to contact their undergraduate deans and the administrators to advocate for themselves and hopefully speed up the construction process.

According to Rubio, after many members of both houses complained to their deans about the impacts of the construction, residential education assistant director Andy Vacca was assigned to hear their concerns. Vacca scheduled a joint meeting between the residents, residential operations facilities manager Christopher Johnson and assistant director of residential operations Bernard Haskell that took place on the evening of Sept. 22. 

During the meeting, which lasted for an hour and half, residents communicated their concerns to Johnson and Haskell. Rubio said, however, that he feels like his concerns were not adequately addressed. 

“We felt like this was finally the call where we would get some solutions, but that wasn’t the case at all,” he said. “They kept asking us to send them an email with a list of concerns, but they didn’t offer any solutions.” 

Tochimani-Hernandez said that during the meeting, Johnson and Haskell repeatedly mentioned other construction projects on campus and asked students to be patient. 

Rubio said that after the meeting, residents of both houses got together to write an email detailing their list of concerns, sending it to Haskell and Johnson the next morning. As of Wednesday, the students have not yet received a response.

Tochimani-Hernandez said that he has been trying to request a refund from residential life.

“I’m not really ‘living’ in La Casa because of the construction, so I don’t think that’s really fair,” he said. 

Sun is a former member of The Dartmouth staff.

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