A "Complex" Matter on a Crumbling Campus

Christina Kelso

With the sights and sounds of new construction turning heads throughout Jacksonville University’s grounds, the question has been murmured amongst some campus residents on whether other areas of the campus are in their due turn for renovation.

The major area called to question is one that hundreds of students interact closely with on a daily basis, the older residence halls of Botts, Johnson, Williams, Brest and McGehee.

The complexes are showing a number of the battle scars of a seasoned old age. Students, especially in Botts and Johnson, have commented on extreme temperatures, reoccurring loss of hot water, backed up plumbing, rusted piping, damaged furniture and peeling paint among other issues.

“The biggest complaint would be about the temperature,” said Michelle Adams-Manning, assistant director of residential life for residence education. “Because it’s an older building, the heating and cooling system is not of today’s time.”

Although Williams Complex for men, built in 1964, underwent renovations within the past decade, Botts Complex for women has not seen major construction since it was originally built in 1968. A number of rumors have circulated about renovations for the women’s living quarters, such as Botts being torn down or renovated. However, as it stands, this is not true. There are no plans for upgrading the women’s buildings.

This lack of change is speculated to be due to an absence of donor funding specifically for renovation projects. However, for the major renovations the halls will soon require, the money must be found. Any donors interested in contributing to renovations in the halls can contact JU’s University Advancement Office. In the mean time, without this type of funding, the budget does not allow for improvements such as upgraded water and air systems that the buildings and students cry for.

With this in mind, the current approach for maintaining the health and quality of student life within these structures must be one that tackles one issue at a time.

“With social media, we stay on top of the things we can control,” Manning said.

Residential life, distributes information about scheduled maintenance, such as power and water cut offs, through JU e-mail and Facebook.

However, this is a feat that cannot be accomplished without involvement from the students living within the buildings. Active communication by students is the initiating step for change within the buildings.

“We are a liason with the students and the physical plant,” said Devon Scheible, director of residential life. “If there are any specific problems that need to be addressed students can go to their community advisor or come to our office and we will in turn contact the physical plant to let them know about the issues.”

Nevertheless, the debate among students remains: Is it worth it?

For each student living in a double occupancy room in one of the older dormitory halls, the cost averages to about $375 a month. This means that each room costs approximately $750 a month between the two residents, about the charge of the average two bedroom apartment in Jacksonville.

“I don’t think it is worth the money,” said Jennifer Miller, a sophomore and resident of Botts Hall. “It is always cold and the living conditions are less than average.”

In response to this reoccurring sentiment, residential life is attempting a forward step for students in the coming year with the resources they are given.

“We recognize that students who are living in Oak Hall and the Village Apartments have better physical conditions than those in older buildings so we are working to keep the prices considerably lower,” Scheible said.

It is, however, the structural conditions of Botts and Johnson that face the most criticism. The lifestyle, sociability and cleanliness are significantly well received by residents. Despite the need for repairs, many of those who live within them value the close-knit, commutative atmosphere of the halls.

“A positive of dorm life is the aspect of living near a bunch of different people from different places,” Miller said.  “From personal experience I am ultimately happier in these dorms than Oak. Oak is just a little bigger and cleaner.”

“Overall we have a pretty nice community,” said April Morton, sophomore and Botts Hall resident. “We have had two great CAs this year and I like it. The maintenance people do their best to keep everything nice for us.”

Encouraging students to remain living on campus is intended to be of benefit to both the school and student residents.

“We would argue that it is definitely safer to live on campus than in other parts of Jacksonville or even this neighborhood,” said Scheible.

Campus life is designed to be a transition, convenience, security, community and learning experience for students. In this system, although they often feel so, students are not powerless. In essence, they are the ones paying the bills and it is this residential population that should not silence their own voice. Before individual problems can be fixed, they must be expressed.