Staff Editorial: It’s time to deal with the Thurston problem

Media Credit: Cartoon by Brandon Lee

This weekend, when alumni tour Thurston Hall, it will probably look exactly the same as it did when those alumni were students — and that’s a problem.

The residence hall holds more than 1,000 students, making it the largest freshman hall on campus. In 2014, the University gave in to student pressure and committed to renovating every residence hall on a seven-year cycle. But since that plan was confirmed, officials still have not decided exactly how they will tackle the much-needed renovations to Thurston.

This fall, however, GW will explore its options for renovating Thurston and will include student leaders in those conversations, University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt said in an email last week.

“Funds for this initial process were approved in May by the Board of Trustees. We do not yet have any details on potential renovations or a timeline for them,” Hiatt said.

It’s great that GW recognizes that Thurston desperately needs some TLC. But at the end of the day, we still don’t have any specific details about when or how Thurston will be renovated. That’s concerning, considering the building hasn’t been touched since it was given a few upgrades — like a new brick facade and sprinklers — back in 2007.

Noel Radomski, the director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, said in an email that schools in renovation predicaments similar to GW’s often have meetings with community members, students and University officials about the problem.

So it seems like GW is moving forward wisely, albeit slowly, on their plans for Thurston. Now that officials are beginning to consider making upgrades to the residence hall, there are a few things they should keep in mind.

Often, Thurston is touted as the crux of the freshman experience on campus. The building has a reputation all over the country, and its lively, party-like atmosphere is one of the first things students hear about when they get to campus — whether they live in Thurston or not. We’ve all heard the stories about messy elevators and ragers on the top floors, along with the close bonds freshmen form during their time there.

We’re not suggesting that officials tear down Thurston, or pour in millions of dollars to recreate District House on F Street. But the building’s current state doesn’t line up with the image GW tries to sell.

If officials invest in Thurston and make small upgrades over the next few summers, it could be more of a selling point for prospective students and also ease current students’ concerns. Right now, the dingy building doesn’t match the polished image of the Science and Engineering Hall or the “Making History” banners on campus — but a shiny new lobby and upgraded rooms would. Plus, a more updated Thurston could appeal to alumni, too, and show them that officials are continuing to invest in areas they care about.

The addition of a kitchen last spring was a good first step. But new furniture and TVs in the piano lounge, new carpet in hallways and better lighting would be good ways to make the dorm a bit less bleak.

Of course, making upgrades like these to Thurston presents quite a dilemma: Since it houses so many freshmen, it’s impossible to take it offline for construction during an academic year. And since the University houses new freshmen in Thurston during Colonial Inauguration over the summer, it’s unlikely they would want to completely renovate the building then, either.

Still, shutting down Thurston during the summer months is the University’s best bet. Though many of the other residence halls on campus are rented out to both GW students and non-GW tenants over the summer, it makes sense to move freshmen to other buildings during Colonial Inauguration. Even if the upgrades require a few summers, the inconvenience of housing students in more than one place during their orientation would be worth the headache.

It’s important that GW keep Thurston instead of tearing it down altogether. The “Thurston experience” is one of the only real, non-manufactured traditions here at GW. People remember the building, the parties they went to in it and the friends they made there. And that’s important. That’s why it’s critical that GW come up with a plan — and fast.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Sarah Blugis and contributing opinions editor Melissa Holzberg, based on discussions with managing director Rachel Smilan-Goldstein, sports editor Nora Princiotti, senior design assistant Samantha LaFrance, copy editor Brandon Lee and assistant sports editor Mark Eisenhauer.

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