Jonah Lewis: With City Hall, GW missed an opportunity to be proactive

A few weeks ago, while trying to sleep off a cold in my City Hall bedroom, I was awoken multiple times by the sound of construction workers sawing into the facade of the building.

After the University had promised renovations over the summer, I moved in expecting a newly refurbished building away from the commotion of campus.

But many of those benefits were lost when the owner, from whom GW leases the building, initiated a year-long construction project. Naturally, residents were angry. Many, including myself, complained to administrators about this unexpected disruption.

Media Credit:
Jonah Lewis

Luckily for students, Senior Associate Vice President for Operations Alicia Knight told me this weekend that the owner and GW have “come to an agreement to reduce the amount of work on the building this academic year, deferring the most disruptive work to summer 2015.”

But the question remains: How did GW allow this to go so far? The University has a responsibility to provide a living space conducive to the academic pursuits of its students. It should be able to manage this responsibility without waiting for student complaints to pile up.

Certainly, City residents are not alone in dealing with construction issues: Those students living near the future site of the Science and Engineering Hall have dealt with noise for years. But unlike them, City students were never aware construction was planned when they signed up for housing.

It’s unlikely so many students would have been willing to live in City – especially given that a double with a balcony is the second-most expensive housing option on campus, at $13,950 – had they known about this construction ahead of time.

The first time students were notified was in mid-August, in an email that highlighted the interior renovations that had been completed over the summer. But at the bottom of that message, the exterior construction, which has come to be some of the most intrusive, was brushed off.

It’s unclear when GW first knew that the building’s owner would be doing construction into the school year, and a University spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about that specifically. But as soon as they knew, officials should have started advocating for students.

Instead, student activists had to email, tweet at and meet with administrators for months before our concerns were taken seriously.

In an Oct. 9 email to residents, Knight and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski apologized for poor communication, saying, “It is our desire and practice to work together to share information that affects residents in a timely [manner] – and in this case, we did not accomplish that in the way we would have liked to.” Additionally, staff from the division of operations were in City every morning last week answering questions about the construction with coffee and donuts for students.

While these gestures were helpful, and show a meaningful responsiveness to student concerns, they came far too late.

It shouldn’t take dozens of complaints to get the University to understand that unannounced construction on a residential building is unacceptable. If GW had addressed this issue sooner, maybe they could have stopped construction altogether, rather than having it simply limited. And you can’t undo the two months of annoyance residents have already endured.

This calls into question the University’s commitment to students. When faced with a choice, GW prioritized its relationship with the building’s owner over students until their demands became too loud to ignore.

In the wake of the “GW Housing Horrors” Facebook page, which brought national attention to campus last year, the University promised to do better by its students and summer residents.

But yet again, GW failed to act in its students’ best interests until threatened with negative attention and confronted by angry residents. The University continues to react to complaints, instead of anticipating and advocating for students’ interests.

The result is that residents of City have spent months distracted by constant construction in and around the building. For me, instead of studying and working – like I came to GW to do – I spent hours over the past few weeks trying to get the University to honor its most basic commitments to residents and provide us living spaces worth the amount we pay for them.

It shouldn’t be students’ jobs to do what plenty of administrators are paid to do.

Jonah Lewis, a junior majoring in political science and sociology, is a Hatchet columnist.

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