Up on the Bluff: Saving Small Housing

Any stroll through campus is incomplete without walking past at least a couple small houses that look like they could have a family in them. They’re unique, quaint and could use a loving paint job. Many have signs of customization indicating what student group lives in them.

Without these small group houses, Lawrence would be quite different, and not for the better. That’s why I was shocked at the recent announcement by Nancy Truesdell during an LUCC meeting, that students could lose five of the small group houses within the next few years.

In case you missed the front page of The Lawrentian, the City of Appleton has identified five of the small group housing buildings that have improper zoning issues and building uses. Lawrence University has until 2016 to bring them up to code at significant monetary cost. If they don’t, they will be considered unfit for student occupation, and a total of 65 beds will be lost.

The houses could still be used for offices because no one would be using them overnight, just during the entire day. As we all know, without proper zoning codes, Dracula can access your house at night, and Santa Claus isn’t authorized to go down the chimney.

This is unfortunate because small housing is a big part of what makes Lawrence so unique. Each house creates an environment that contributes to this small, beautiful and dysfunctional tapestry that is the Lawrence University culture. They’re also part of what make the requirement for all students to live on campus bearable. If students are forced to live together, they might as well have some agency over who they live with.

It is conceivable that we could lose the five houses for student living without any proper replacement, but I’m optimistic that this won’t be a problem. Lawrence University has formed a committee in response to this issue that is sympathetic to the idea that small group housing is important. They are currently looking for ways to address this upcoming housing deficit.

Nancy Truesdell herself stated, “We want to maintain and enhance group housing” and that, ideally, the committee’s goal is to “accommodate that style of living somehow.”

In a perfect world where cost isn’t the issue, the houses could simply be renovated one at a time, top to bottom, thereby maintaining that old-timey rustic feel. As it is, though, the renovations needed to bring the houses up to code for student living may actually be more expensive than the university knocking them down and replacing them with brand new shiny houses. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, as new houses offer the best-case scenario.

Small group housing is great, but the houses themselves, to be honest, are ancient shacks in constant need of repair. Every day I fear entering Phi Tau because the foundation of the building is literally crumbling. What’s the point of adding all the features bringing a house up to code if it’s going to look terrible and still have inefficient plumbing systems and costly heating bills due to lack of insulation?

By knocking down these ancient energy sinks and replacing them with new houses, they could be well designed, environmentally friendly and their foundations wouldn’t be crumbling due to their age. The long-term financial benefits would be extraordinary. Any asbestos and lead still lingering from a time when it was acceptable to deny people the right to vote would be gone at last.

Hopefully the committee will find such a solution feasible. I would hate to see what this university would look like without its character of group housing.