Years of discussion, planning and construction culminated Monday with the opening of the $38 million West-Edens Link, the centerpiece of long-awaited changes to upperclass residential life.
The dormitory's new residents voiced mixed reactions so far to the new building, which adds 350 undergraduate beds to campus and connects two formerly separate areas of West Campus. But even though students criticized some aspects of the new dorm, most expressed overall satisfaction and an eagerness to begin unloading their belongings into their clean, new rooms.
"Compared to other living options, it is great to be here," sophomore Adam Walsh said.
Chris Dibble, a sophomore, said the WEL is a vast improvement over his living conditions last year in Randolph Dormitory. He was confident that flooding and vandalism will be much less prevalent in the new building.
The gigantic WEL is one of the most visible features of the new upperclass residential life system, which over this week and next will implement several major changes planned in previous years. The University uprooted fraternities and other selective houses from the Main Quadrangle and moved them to the perimeter quads of West to create a separate corridor for independent students. In addition, smoking has been prohibited in all dormitories. Lastly, all sophomores must now live on West Campus and they can move to quads "linked" with their freshman dorms. As in other quads from now on, sophomores make up the majority of the WEL's population.
One sophomore, Charlotte Vaughn, pointed out several of the WEL's perks.
"I really like the air conditioning and carpets," she said. She added that she appreciates the cleanliness of the bathrooms and looks forward to not feeling "grossed out" whenever she unlocks a bathroom door--although she believes there is sufficient space to add another stall in her bathroom.
Students went on to praise the resources in the WEL, such as the seminar rooms, lounges and eating options, saying they believe trips up to Main West will become less necessary. Walsh and roommate Bill Rogers, who were on the fringes of East Campus last year in Gilbert-Addoms and Southgate Dormitories, were excited about the common spaces at their immediate disposal in the WEL.
Although the WEL boasts significantly larger rooms, many students said their rooms do not appear to be as big as the square footage suggested. Students had not been able to view their potential dorm rooms during the housing lottery in the spring, because they were still under construction.
"My 180-square-foot room felt bigger last year," Walsh said, although his room in the WEL is larger by more than 50 square feet.
Dibble said his enormous closets rob much of the space from the center of his room. "There is a lot of wasted space in my room, but my closet is two times as big as before," he said. "I feel very disappointed because I was screwed architecturally."
Vaughn added that her room setup was not ideal. She said it is impossible to open both the closet and main doors at the same time without having them crash together.
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The new semi-lofted beds have created some discontent as well. These partly raised beds were theoretically employed to add more space, but some students said the beds do not create enough room. Many students preferred to loft their beds completely. "I would rather have a loft. I cannot fit anything useful under [the semi-lofted bed] like a desk or a TV," Dibble said.
Students also criticized the WEL's dreary and unfinished appearance.
"I hate the crater walls and the brown ceilings," Walsh said.
Dibble said the brick-lined hallways and piping along several ceilings gives the WEL a sewer-like appearance.
Vaughn added that the WEL can feel too much like an institution. Although the building has few long, straight hallways in order to make the floors seem less daunting, she feared that the smaller hallways could separate the students; they might feel less of an incentive to leave their individual halls.
"We do not need to know our neighbors," she said.
Interaction with students who do not live in the WEL could be very limited, Vaughn added. The WEL could be viewed, she said, as simply a pathway that students walk through on their way to another destination.
Living in the WEL "could be more isolating, but it will just take more effort [to see other people]," she said.
Vaughn was also astutely aware of the potential fines during room inspections at the end of the year.
"If we make holes in walls, they will know that we are to blame," she said. "We will be fined for everything."
WEL diner, café set to open this week, slightly behind schedule
Students will soon be able to sample some homestyle cooking at Rick's Diner or sip a latte at the Blue Devil Beanery as McClendon Tower in the West-Edens Link is scheduled to open either today or Friday.
Floors 0, 1 and 4 will be the only completed spaces among the total of nine floors that make up the Tower. Floor 0 houses the diner, and students will be able to relax and eat on floor 1, which overlooks the restaurant below. The café, along with a convenience store, can be found on floor 4. Both the diner and café feature outdoor patio seating.
The two eateries are opening almost a week behind schedule. "It was a tight project, and we made a decision in the summer that we could not miss on the rooms. If you couldn't buy a hamburger for three days, it wasn't going to be a problem," Executive Vice President Tallman Trask said. "It seemed more important to get the rooms done."
The remaining six floors of the tower are intended for social space, and could be completed by the end of the semester.