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Campus construction a bother for residents

To better accommodate increased enrollment, improve facilities and make use of major donations, many construction projects and renovations are underway or being planned for the Mills campus, but students are being disturbed in the process.

A student apartment complex that will house 95 students is currently being built next to the Underwood Apartments-a family housing unit above the Greek Theater-and a major renovation to the Life Sciences building will begin in the spring.

Residents of Underwood and the Ross and Larsen House Co-ops, which are next to the Life Sciences building, were not notified of the construction until this semester, and some have to decide whether or not to stay through the disturbance. The school agreed to let anyone out of their housing contracts to move off campus, and some are jumping at the opportunity.

“I’m moving off campus because I need a quiet place to study and sleep,” said senior Mikhail Haramati, a Ross House resident. Haramati said that because she has an injury and dietary restrictions, Ross is her only on-campus living option.

HMDS offered to refund the co-op residents $1000 to stay in their homes, but some residents aren’t satisfied with the compensation. Senior Michelle Blackford lives in Underwood, and said she was offered $1000 while her neighbors who live closer to the construction get $1500. In her calculations, that means she is receiving 85 cents for every hour of disturbance.

Blackford said she and most of her single-mother neighbors can’t afford to move off campus. She was looking forward to staying at Mills for graduate school and providing her kids with housing stability, but said she will not consider that after the disturbance the construction is causing and the way the administration is neglecting the needs of Underwood residents.

“There’s layers of dust in my place,” Blackford said, and pointed out the new cracks around her home that she said are from the nearby construction. “When the trucks rumble by it feels like an earthquake, it’s so unreal.”

Blackford said her neighbors have to take their 3-year-old daughter away from home for her daily nap.

Blackford said when she and her neighbors realized the new housing was not for them, they were upset. “I was like ‘time out – look at our houses.'” She said their apartments have many problems, including safety risks for their children. Blackford said Karen Maggio, assistant vice president of HMDS, told her a student group met to discuss needs for campus residents last year, but that no one at Underwood was involved.

Though students at Underwood want better facilities than already available, Maggio said the school needs to prepare for incoming students.

Maggio said that enrollment will continue to increase, and current students are living on campus more than usual. She said upperclasswomen and graduate students need housing options that offer more independence than living in the dorms, but she wants to help them stay on campus.

“Grad housing has been limited and they’re not satisfied to live in the dorms,” said Maggio. “It’s great for first year students but as they get older they want more independence. I want to make room.”

The “Mills Student Apartments” Project will house undergraduate and graduate students beginning next fall, as long as rain doesn’t slow down construction. Three two-story buildings will be connected by a courtyard. The buildings are “town home” style, with separate levels for bedrooms and communal living space and all ground levels will be in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The complex will have trellised walkways, patios and view corridors so students can enjoy the view from up on the hill. Lighted paths will lead to parking down the hill, where there is currently vacant space.

“We talked about a cyber cafe laundry room, so that’s a possibility,” Maggio said.

She said a student focus group last year helped her and the architects get a better idea of what students would want in the building and she will hold another focus group meeting to talk about the interior, deciding on colors, fabrics and furniture for the apartment. Maggio said they want to use the nicest possible, and hopefully recycled, materials.

The project will cost about $11 million, but Maggio said that because all the money is coming from a Mills bond, there is no donor to name it after and she still doesn’t know how a name will be chosen.

The new Life Sciences building will be the first on campus to meet national standards as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or “green building.” Maggio said faculty, staff and students, especially those in last year’s “Greening of Mills” seminar encouraged this decision.

Renovations over several years will include the addition of a second story, improvement of the courtyards and the botany garden. The building will use solar panels for electricity and recycle rainwater for toilets. Maggio said Karen Fiene, the school’s consulting architect, is designing a waterfall-like structure where the process of capturing rainwater and sending it through the sewer system can be seen by visitors. This is part of the new building’s design to educate students in its structure. Maggio called it a “teaching building,” and said “we’re still tweaking a lot of the innovations, and it’s a lot of fun.”

“I’m excited because I’m a science major,” said Andrea Carter, a freshwoman who lives in Ross House. “As far as the noise, I don’t really want to put up with it but it’s for a good cause.”

While the building is in construction, faculty offices and computer labs will be moved to White Hall on the hill shared by Founders Commons and the international schools, classes will be distributed throughout other buildings and laboratory sessions will continue in the same place after construction hours.