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Buildings that Time Forgot
Rhode Island College is on the ballot this November as referendum Question #3. If approved, it will provide $50 million in much-needed renovation-construction funds for three of the college’s aged buildings.
If the Parthenon, the Sistine Chapel and the Mona Lisa required restoration and reconstruction, then why not the facilities at the oldest public institution of higher education in the state?
Craig-Lee Hall was one of the first buildings erected on RIC’s Mt. Pleasant campus. Jayne Nightingale, RIC coordinator of the Office of Academic Support, graduated from RIC in 1965. She said, “Craig-Lee pre-dated Gaige and the Fogarty Life Science buildings, so we’re talking about a building that”s almost 50 years old. It seems reasonable that the bones, the skeleton, the very foundation of Craig-Lee would need repair.”
Time is indeed telling on this historic building. Faculty talk of faulty heating and cooling systems; leaky, falling ceiling tiles; accessibility problems for students with disabilities; lack of soundproofing, poor acoustics and inadequate office and classroom space.
“It's a challenge every day to teach and work in Craig-Lee,” said Russell Potter, RIC professor of English. “Nearly every system in the building – heating, cooling, electricity, Internet – is in need of repair.”
Faculty and staff who work and teach in Craig-Lee share his observations:
“One never knows what the temperature will be when one walks into a Craig-Lee classroom,” said Barbara Schapiro, professor of English. Due to lack of climate control, classrooms and offices range from frigid cold to extremely hot.
Maureen Reddy, professor and chair of the English Department, remembered classrooms so cold in winter that students kept their coats and gloves on during class. “It’s very, very hard to write while wearing gloves, and very, very hard to pay attention when you’re shivering.”
The roof of Craig-Lee has been endlessly patched, but the leaks spring anew after each rainstorm, and when the snow melts, you’re left with wet or damp ceiling tiles. Once the tiles are waterlogged, they fall off.
“I’ve taught in classrooms where students would avoid sitting in a certain area. They’d keep eyeing the ceiling, instead of concentrating on the discussion, to see if a tile would fall,” said Spencer Hall, professor of English and director of the Honors Program.
Schapiro remembers when her students had to arrange themselves around a bucket that was collecting water dripping from the tiles. “The plop, plop, plop,” she said, “created a distracting backdrop to our discussion.”
Inadequate classroom and office space is another issue. “With more than 40 adjuncts, we only have functional office space for seven or eight adjuncts at a time,” said Potter. Departments like sociology have no adjunct office space at all.
“I’d like to see wider classroom doors for students who use wheelchairs,” said Keri Rossi-D’entremont, director of disability services. “And the elevator could use replacing for students who use large power wheelchairs. The elevator now is not only too narrow but prone to malfunction due to age.”
“Classrooms that lack soundproofing is particularly difficult during an exam,” said Pam Benson, professor of English. And because of poor acoustics, which causes sound to bounce across the walls, creating echoes, we cannot hear our students nor hear ourselves, said Michelle Brophy-Baermann, associate professor of political science. “Imagine putting students into small groups to discuss their reading, and the din that ensues,” she said.
“Though there are many, many deficiencies with Craig-Lee,” said Susan McAllister, coordinator of the Office of Academic Support, “the folks who work in Craig-Lee have tolerated the lack of air conditioning, the lack of adequate heat, offices in need of painting, torn carpeting, moldy ceiling tiles, dirty bathroom tiles and broken windows. Often our offices reach a temperatures of over 85 degrees, yet the staff doesn’t skip a beat. We put our students first, and our comfort second. These folks work hard, very hard, to provide services to our students, so that each student receives the first-class education they deserve.
RIC faculty who work out of Gaige Hall point out infrastructure problems that affect the learning environment of all 8,000 of RIC’s students who take one or more classes in this building.
For years, faculty have taught in classrooms in Gaige that lack windows and that have extreme fluctuations in temperature, which make learning difficult. “I warn my students to be prepared for anywhere between 40 to 90 degree temperatures in the classroom,” said Joanne Schneider, professor of history.
And many of the classrooms are without windows, said Mary Baker, associate professor of anthropology. “I have two fans that circulate the air, but I sweat throughout my lectures, and I know students have a hard time focusing.”
The fans are so loud we have to yell to make ourselves heard, and noisy radiators interfere with lectures and discussions, said faculty.
Ceiling tiles have been replaced repeatedly because of pipe leaks and problems with condensation that cause the tiles to fall. “My concern is that ceiling leaks also act as an incubator for mold and mildew,” said Gale Goodwin Gomez, professor of anthropology.
“During the summer I was away conducting field research in Costa Rica,” Baker added. “I returned to find mold covering my books, photos and mask collection.”
Faculty recount numerous other ills that affect Gaige, such as crumbling carpet; chipped, broken and missing floor tiles; windows that malfunction and will not stay open unless propped up with a book; lack of third-floor bathroom facilities; stairways that are too narrow, causing safety and traffic problems; corridors that are too narrow to accommodate students in wheelchairs; outdated pipes, ventilation and wiring systems.
“It’s clear that Gaige needs serious refurbishment beyond the capacity of current funding,” said Baker. “With the passage of Question 3, Gaige and Craig-Lee would not only become more energy efficient and technologically appropriate for teaching, the buildings would become safer for both faculty and students.”
Fogarty Life Science
Anne Carty, RIC professor and director of the VA Nursing Academy, has taught nursing at Rhode Island College since 1974. During that time, the nursing program has grown from a small department with a local reputation, to a School of Nursing with the largest number of students in the college and a national reputation for excellence.
Yet office, classroom, conference and lab spaces designated for nursing in the Fogarty Life Science building are “woefully inadequate,” said Carty. “The School of Nursing’s more than 500 students have only about 8,000 square feet allocated for their learning."
Assistant Professor Debra Servello makes use of the nursing lab for much of her teaching. She said that the space is often too small for classes of 30 or more students to fit adequately. With the increased use of lab simulations, competition for space increases.
Technology is also dated or simply lacking. “Nurses are filling expanding roles,” said Carty, “mastering technological tools, such as electronic medical records; using information management systems; and collaborating with other health professionals to manage the health and illness care of diverse clients. To continue to educate tomorrow’s nurses to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we need to bring nursing technology at Rhode Island College into the 21st century.”