Welcome to ‘Hotel Blanche:’ Residential Buildings get a Face-Lift

Katelynn McGinley
Staff Reporter

While some things will never change ? and while it is a strange comfort to know that the boys living in Rouzer will never stop trying to find new and impressive ways to destroy the building completely (Raman noodles in the toilet? Props to you, freshman boys!) ? Over the summer, our dear campus has undergone some pretty hard-to-miss changes.

Most glaringly obvious would have to be the shiny, pretty, completely re-vamped Garden Apartments.

“Every time I walk into my apartment I feel like I’ve won the lottery,” says Valerie Hudson, a junior and a former resident of the cramped and slightly decrepit McDaniel Hall, “My roommates and I are used to living on top of each other. We have so much space now that we almost don’t know what to do with ourselves.”

The renovations to Blanche Ward Hall also took many students by complete surprise. “I had no idea that [the school] was even considering making such big changes to [the building],” says former Blanche resident Kathryn Harlow, a junior, whose old room has now become an emergency exit.

Indeed, the stately new interior ? purple wallpaper, wood paneling, and carpeting, oh my! ? has earned the building the affectionate nickname of ‘Hotel Blanche.’ One student was overheard remarking that “it looks like Hill [Hall, one of the more picturesque academic buildings on campus] in here.”

Whether these changes seem random (in comparison to other residential buildings, Blanche would appear to be much lower on the totem pole than places like McDaniel or even A&W) or long-overdue (Gardens were getting pretty gross, if we’re being completely honest), Dr. Ethan Seidel, the vice president of Administration and Finance, explains that all the renovations done on campus are actually in accordance with the College’s ‘Campus Facilities Master Plan.’

The plan, drafted in 2002/2003, outlines the construction needs of the College for the next 10-15 years, and was conceived as “an attempt to identify the most pressing facilities needs as perceived at the time it was written.”

Dr. Seidel adds that the plan can be modified over the passage of time if newer, more pressing needs come to light. This Master Plan is what outlined the construction of several key elements of McDaniel ? including North Village Apartments, Academic Hall, and the Merritt Fitness Center, in addition to “the systematic renovation of the College’s older residence halls.”

Dr. Seidel names student opinion surveys that have been conducted over the years as a key determinant of which halls were the most in need of renovation. Unsurprisingly, Seidel says that “the two [buildings] that were always at the top of the list were Blanche and Rouzer, with McDaniel always next in line.”

In order for the school to undertake the extensive renovations to any buildings, Dr. Seidel explains, the school first had to establish a process that would be the least invasive and disruptive to the student body.

“We recognized that we would have to keep the building being renovated unoccupied for part of the school year,” which meant placing emphasis on finishing ‘Phase II’ of North Village, which was completed in October of 2007. Seidel cites this as being a “critical” step in the process; because it enabled those students who had been temporarily living in Garden’s to move into their assigned apartments in North Village, leaving Garden’s empty and ready for renovation.

The apartments were completely gutted ? “they needed the work”, Seidel concedes, “and it worked out perfectly from a logistical point of view.” The project was completed on schedule, for a sum of approximately $4.3 million.

Next up on the ‘Master Plan’ was Blanche.
Seidel explained that “after much discussion, thought, and analysis of campus needs, it was decided that changing the nature of how Rouzer Hall is utilized would be the most beneficial to the campus community.”

Student organizations, faculty, and administration all require additional office and meeting space, and Rouzer, which is ideally located in connection to Decker College Center, is the obvious choice for expansion.

“It was decided that the extra space [in Rouzer] would be used this year to empty out the north wing of Blanche so that renovations that were begun at the start of the summer could continue into the academic year,” Seidel explains.

Once the renovations on Blanche are completed and the building is again fully occupied, the College will again have access to excess space. Though the exact costs of the Blanche renovations will not be fully known until completion, at print time, the estimated cost is around $6 million.

Don’t get too comfortable, kids ? because these are not going to be the only changes on campus either.

“We’re in the process of deciding when and where to renovate next,” says Seidel.

Ideally, Rouzer will soon become what is known as a ‘mixed use’ building ? containing two floors of offices and meeting spaces, as well as residential rooms, but Seidel says that he is hopeful the school “will be able to complete at least one more renovation”, in addition to Blanche, before taking on the conversion of Rouzer Hall.

“It’s a balancing act,” says Seidel, of the renovation process, “we would really like to get on” with the work in Rouzer because of the need for office spaces, but “we are hesitant to lose the excess residence space we now have,” Seidel explains, because it is that space that allows the college to continue the renovation process on other residential halls like McDaniel and A&W.

Balancing act or no, it might not be a bad idea for the Rouzer boys to keep their bags packed.