By Michael Schroth
When Madi Marceau, a junior elementary education and psychology major at Worcester State, looks around her dorm building, Chandler building 3-1, she sees a lot to complain about.
“There are cobwebs over here,” she says, walking over to the emergency exit. A massive cobweb stretches from the door frame down to the handle. A little black spider stands guard in his web.
“I don’t know whether we should let him live or whether we should squash him.”
Marceau shrugs, letting the little independent homeowner live for the time being. She walks up the ketchup-colored stairs of her Chandler to its second floor. The stairs stand in stark contrast to drab, mustard yellow walls. Bizarre fast food vibes permeate the apartment. Even the tile floor is reminiscent of Grimace, the old McDonald’s mascot, an anthropomorphic purple blob.
Chandler Village last underwent major work in 2004. Was it all just a half-hearted attempt at opening some sort of twisted McDonald’s mascot dormitory?
Marceau walks through the rest of her room, noting the chipped paint and shoddy paint jobs. The upstairs shower automatically goes all the way to the hottest setting whenever it’s turned on. There are dirty appliances, lights that barely work, and drafty windows without curtains.
“Sometimes, you can feel a breeze over here,” Marceau complains as she sits in her kitchen. “Even when the windows are closed.”
She looks around. “We don’t even have a couch!” she says. “Just these two chairs. And what kind of kitchen setup is this?”
The kitchen is tiny and crammed under the stairs. There is barely enough space for one person to move around and this style of apartment houses eight people.
Pipes have broken twice in Chandler since Marceau has been here. Both times, she lost heat and warm water.
“It’s a big issue,” she explains. “I don’t want to have to go shower in Dowden. I don’t live there.”
So what gives?
Many students feel that Chandler Village is in disrepair, and school leadership appears aware of that. At the start of last semester, surveys circulated around campus asking students about their opinions on Chandler. At least 10 percent of the student body, or about 600 residents and commuters, responded to the survey conducted by the Boston-based architecture firm Bruner/Cott.
Focus groups were also conducted. Raquel Sousa, junior Communications Sciences and Disorders major, participated in one such group on September 17, 2018. She described the hour-long meeting as involving twenty students and a Bruner/Cott representative.
“The questions were like, ‘What do you like about where you live now?’ and ‘What do you and don’t you want to see in new housing?’” Sousa said.
Ultimately, the participants were given three options to discuss: to renovate Chandler, to replace Chandler, or to build a new residence hall in the style of Wasylean.
“We were pretty split,” Sousa explained. “The people who lived in Chandler enthusiastically supported keeping and renovating the buildings. The rest of us supported building another Wasylean.”
“We know everyone has an opinion and either loves [Chandler] or hates it,” reads a ResLife email sent to students back in early September.
One thing that the students agreed on, according to Sousa, was that they didn’t want to see their housing bill go up.
“I chose Chandler because it’s cheaper, honestly,” agreed Marceau. “It’s the cheapest option by a couple hundred dollars.”
Regarding rent costs, Julie Kazarian, the Dean of Students, pointed out that the Massachusetts State College Building Authority, not Worcester State, sets the rent on the buildings. Furthermore, WSU doesn’t even own Chandler Village; the MSCBA owns it.
WSU and the MSCBA work in conjunction to set the rent for buildings on campus. Kazarian explained that WSU generally submits budgets for review, and the MSCBA will make proposals that school leadership then green lights.
“WSU is committed to keeping students’ rent as low as possible,” Kazarian said. “In fact, the board of trustees arranged for there to be no rent increase for the coming academic year.”
Students have experienced a slight rent increase every year recently.
When it comes to the renovate/replace debate, Kazarian said that the financial impact potential decisions could have on students is “one of the biggest factors to consider.”
She went on to explain what many students probably already understand: that the school budgets for “the small things,” meaning repairs and maintenance.
“Moving forward,” she continued, “it’s the major things that need to be figured out. This is why the process takes so long.”
And take a long time, it will.
With the survey of students already conducted, Bruner/Cott has moved on to examining architectural pricing actions. None of this information, including designs and prices, are available to the public yet. When they are, Kazarian expects there to be presentations about them on campus that are open to students. But it’s an arduous, multi-year task Bruner/Cott and the MSCBA are undertaking.
In other words, unless you’re a freshman or sophomore now, don’t expect to see any changes to Chandler Village in your time at WSU.
While no designs are available, Director of ResLife and Housing Adrian Gage was able to comment on what WSU students seem to prefer.
“The apartment style is very desirable to upper class students,” he explained. Spots in Chandler and Wasylean Hall typically go very quickly during room selection, he said, adding, “Students respond well to that style of living.”
Kazarian built onto that, saying she expects any new plans will incorporate “the portions of Chandler Village that students like.”
What are the parts of Chandler that students like?
“You don’t have to check people in,” said Marceau. “And there’s not a limit on how many people can be in your Chandler at a time. You don’t have to make people come downstairs and say, ‘Oh, swipe me in.’”
Students like Marceau appear to want to be treated like adults. When you buy your own house, there’s no doorman around counting heads or checking bags.
That’s why Marceau wants to see Chandler replaced, not just renovated.
“I think it should be replaced with something that’s a similar setup—as in multi-level apartments—so that it’s not like Wasylean or Sheehan Hall. And I think that it should be the same system where you don’t have to get checked in and everybody’s not in the same building. It should be spread out…I like the idea of different units all over, not a dorm with six floors.”
This is coming from a girl who fell in love with Chandler when she first toured WSU.
“I said, ‘Yep. I’m going to live [in Chandler] for the rest of my time here.’ That’s what drew me to Worcester State,” Marceau said. “And I think that having the Chandler houses nice would be so much better because people would actually want to live in them. And you could have them be a little bit more expensive and people would still pay for them. So I think they should tear Chandler down and rebuild.”
While there are no plans in the works, you can still access the survey that was sent to students last semester. In the survey, you can see the floor plans for the four living options on campus: Dowden (“Traditional double/single bedroom”), Sheehan (“Two Double Bedroom Semi-Suite”), Wasylean (“Six-person apartment”), and Chandler (simply listed as “Apartment”). Also included is a layout for a four-person suite, with one double and two singles.
The survey asks students which style of living they prefer. Depending on those results, and depending on how attentive Bruner/Cott, the MSCBA, and WSU leadership are to student preferences (and all signs point to them being just that), an overhaul of Chandler Village could be just what WSU students are looking for.
Most students already enrolled, however, won’t reap any of the rewards.