By Liam Dynes and Chris Dart
Originally published on Aug. 29, 2003, in The Brock Press
On Wednesday, August 27, Steven Pillar, Brock University’s vice president of finance and administration was sure that the new Arnie Lowenberger Residence would be ready to have students move in on Labour Day, despite its half-finished exterior.
Less than forty-eight hours later, however, the university’s administration pulled a sudden about-face, following a site inspection by Pillar and vice-president academic, Terry Boak. As of Friday, Aug. 29, the university declared that the residence would not be ready for occupancy in time for the Sept. 1 move-in date.
“We deeply regret the inconvenience caused by this delay,” said Pillar in a press release.
According to Grant Dobson, the university’s director of external relations, the building’s falling behind schedule was caused by a combination of factors, including the exceptionally cold winter, which had seriously hindered construction, and a lack of skilled tradespeople available for the project.
“With the permanent casino being built [in Niagara Falls], with [Niagara] College under construction, with us under construction, there has been a tremendous pressure on [the construction industry],” says Dobson. “We know that if you’ve got just-in-time delivery of toilets and furniture, which most people like to do, then the blackout … put a full week delay on delivery, because people simply stopped manufacturing. There are a lot of current issues that would feed this kind of problem.
“Because of all this construction going on, there is an incredible pressure to find trades. You say ‘I need sixteen plumbers’ and they say ‘Well, we can only give you four.'”
According to Dobson, the 310 would-be Lowenberger dwellers will be put up in St. Catharines area hotels until the construction is completed. He says that the students and their families will be contacted over the weekend. Although he refused to speculate on how the students would react to the fact that their future home is currently uninhabitable, he says that he will be paying close attention to the students’ feedback. In the interim, he advises student’s scheduled to move in to Lowenberger to pack lightly, so as to better fit their possessions into hotel rooms.
“We’re going to encourage [students] to come light, seeing as they’re going into a hotel, and to deliver additional goods later,” said Dobson. “If they do bring additional items, arrangements for secure storage will be made by the university administration.”
Dobson insists that the decision was made at the last minute, and that the university had been planning have the residence undergo a safety inspection by the City of St. Catharines on Sunday, Aug. 31.
“We had gone so far as to arrange for … the City of St. Catharines to do an inspection for an occupancy permit,” said Dobson. “But, coldly looking at things at noon today, we had satisfied ourselves that there would be no way we would be ready for such an inspection on Sunday.”
According to Dobson, the problems with residence include a lack of fixtures in some of the rooms, as well as incomplete wiring and plumbing.
Dobson refuses to speculate as to the revised move-in date, but says that there will be a major construction push this weekend, and that the administration will re-examine the structure on Aug. 31 to see what progress has been made.
Brock University Students’ Union (BUSU) president Brandon Larry also commented on the delays, focusing on the apparent lack of, or rather failure to publicize and enact efficiently, a contingency plan for such an emergency.
“A very important part of this whole issue is that there was no public, proposed, talked about contingency plan,” said Larry. “The fact of the matter is, if you’re cutting it that close to the line, you need a contingency plan, and that’s unfortunately something that the university did not have, or did and didn’t stick to. I think what they’ve done now obviously is for the safety and health of the students, and I think that that’s good, but to be rushing around on Labor Day weekend and calling students with this news, that’s not good.”
Some of the contingency plans rumoured to have been proposed included billeting students in the Four Points Sheraton directly across Merrittville Highway from Brock, a plan confirmed by a call to the hotel Friday afternoon. What is surprising however is that this call from the Press was the first the hotel had heard of this possible necessity. The hotel did confirm that they had been approached months ago, but said that they knew nothing of these current plans as of 1 p.m. Friday afternoon.
Some think this calls into question the sincerity of the administration’s claims that this was a truly last minute decision, but Larry does not see any direct evidence to prove such a case.
“I don’t know, I think the university was telling us what they truly believed,” said Larry. “I think they thought they would be done, that’s what they were being told during construction.”
One of Larry’s primary concerns, however, is how this move will affect the students displaced from their expected position at this crucial time of the year.
“I think that it will impact on their impression and their attitude, not toward Brock because once they get here they’ll see how nice the school really is, but I think it will impact their way looking at university,” said Larry. “I think that students, especially younger students that have never been away from home before, to move them into a hotel rather than into a home is very, very tough. This is already a big, big change in life and in lifestyle, so to take them and to put them into a hotel situation where it’s temporary move in, and can’t have their own stuff, a place not on campus, and needing transportation – although the universal bus pass will make that part much easier – and not being able to have the students all together is a big problem because that’s an important part of university. As well, orientation week is a big part of university, and these students will not be on campus to experience that, making it more difficult for students to participate in any of these activities.”
Larry also worries about the impact this move will have on the ability of these students to attend their first sessions of class.
“I think it’s a huge issue, academics need to realize that for students coming from out of town, it could be very difficult for them to get to campus for that first Thursday and Friday of classes,” said Larry. “Would they delay classes? I don’t see that, I don’t think it’s an issue, but for those from out of town who might not have originally planned on having a car, but are now thinking of it, where are they going to park since they wouldn’t have a parking pass, having assumed that you wouldn’t have a car?”
Finally, Larry promises all the help BUSU can muster in tackling this potentially great problem.
“If I could put all of them up in my apartment building I would,” said Larry, “but I have said that if there is any student who cannot get a hotel room, and they are in dire need, then they can contact us and we will help them, whether that means getting a cot and putting them up in the office, or whatever it may be, we’ve done it before in emergency situations, and we will be sure to be there for students.”
More details on this story as the situation develops, so keep watching http://www.brockpress.com for any updates.