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The Dartmouth
May 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Summit on Juniper residents report heating outages

Some 40 units have experienced heating issues throughout the winter term, and graduate student organizers point out a number of issues with the third-party company operating several of the complex’s buildings.

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Since the third week of January, apartment units at the Summit on Juniper complex have been experiencing systemic heating outages. According to senior vice president of operations of the Michaels Organization Cheree Lujan, about 40 units were impacted. 

The Michaels Organization, a third-party company, is in charge of handling residential operations within three buildings at Summit on Juniper that are primarily occupied by graduate students. The fourth building, which primarily houses undergraduate students, is managed through the College’s office of residential life. 

The issues have to do with the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, which works via heat compressors, according to Lujan. She noted that about eight compressors have been identified thus far which need replacement.

“The manufacturer has been onsite to analyze the cause of the failures and to make any adjustments needed to ensure that the system is in good working order for the long haul,” Lujan wrote in an email statement.  

Juniper resident Smitakshi Goswami, who is pursuing a physics and astronomy Ph.D. at Dartmouth, said that the lack of heating has forced her to adopt measures in order to cope with the cold. 

“In the morning when I have to go to the living room, it’s freezing,” Goswami said. “I have to wear … my winter clothes even if I just have to cook.”

While Lujan wrote that the compressors are being replaced on a “rolling basis,” she also stated that the Michaels Group management team has set up portable safety space heaters for residents who are experiencing “insufficient heating.” 

“The safety space heaters can warm the apartments to an average temperature of 72 degrees, or higher, depending on the individual preferences of the residents,” she wrote. 

However, according to vice president of the Graduate Student Council Josephine Benson, an earth sciences master’s degree candidate, the space heaters are not enough, and multiple students said that running several space heaters at a time is unsafe. Benson added that several residents had to request a space heater “multiple times,” while others were told that there were no more heaters. She noted that management has denied the lack of space heaters. 

In her email statement, Lujan said that there are enough space heaters for everyone who needs one.

In response to the lack of space heaters, the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth started a space heater drive once they learned that Summit on Juniper management “could not locate” space heaters to provide to residents, GOLD member Logan Mann said. Goswami said that once GOLD was “in the picture,” every unit that needed a space heater had access to one, but this was not the case before then.

“[Before] if anyone had a space heater, they could offer it, and then if anyone needed a space heater, they could reach out to us and we could supply it,” Mann said. “Since then, Summit has started providing space heaters. However, they’re only providing one per unit in sometimes four bedroom apartments, which is totally not acceptable.”

Mann added that on top of providing space heaters, GOLD will be shuttling people to temporary shelter in other housing locations if the need arises. He said that GOLD is calling for Dartmouth to relocate affected residents until the heat is restored.

“It is unsafe and totally unviable to have people just relying on space heaters when it’s negative 13 degrees out,” Mann said.

Geisel School of Medicine research assistant Grace Ballarino — a Summit on Juniper resident — wrote in an email statement that heat issues have been occurring since Nov. 2022. Multiple times, she wrote, residents have received emails that the issues will be fixed by the "end of the day."

To exacerbate the heating issues, Goswami said that graduate student residents have to pay separately for electricity, on top of already high rent costs. According to Benson, the cheapest room at Summit is “more than $1,000” per month, adding that the rent at Summit exceeds the rent burden — defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as spending more than 30% of income on housing costs — for some residents who may have lower graduate student stipends. 

Furthermore, Goswami said that there is a disconnect between the price of a unit and the living conditions. 

“The house is not made of really good materials,” she said. “[For example], the pipeline has fluids coming out. Everything keeps getting broken. There is no sense of security, and the buildings are open.” 

Benson said that the Graduate Student Council is hoping that the land and buildings will be leased back to the College, especially because of repeated “negative and dismissive interactions” with the Michaels Organization. She added that the Michaels Organization has policies that are “really detrimental” to graduate students, like not allowing subletting and charging an additional fee if rent is paid with a credit card. 

“The [Michaels Organization] manager has made it very clear to us that her primary responsibility is to the investors and not to its residents,” Benson said. 

According to Mann, the other demands that GOLD is making of the College include the termination of any contracts with the Michaels Organization.

“We want Dartmouth or Michaels to compensate all tenants for heating, and all other maintenance failures, of which there have been a ton,” Mann said. “And then … we are calling on Dartmouth to terminate the contract with Michaels and [remove them] from all other current and future contracts.”

Benson added that in the past, the North Park housing community used to be graduate student housing. The loss of access to those accommodations has been “devastating” for graduate students, she said, highlighting a need for change. 

“We’ve had a lot of discontent among graduate students for various policies,” Benson said. “And this is the latest example of Summit not stepping up appropriately to take care of its residents and really putting profit over people.”

Shena Han ’25 contributed reporting.

Updated Feb. 3 at 7:56 p.m. with an additional source about the timing of the heating issues, which date back to November.