Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

New Junior-Senior Residential Village Under Construction

The construction of Whitman’s new junior and senior residential village is officially underway. The residential village is to be built along Boyer Avenue and Marcus Street, near the Glover Alston Intercultural Center and Boyer House. Fencing has gone up around these areas to demarcate the construction zone for the duration of the building. 

Funding comes from three primary sources: philanthropy from the college’s alumni, parents and donors; designated restricted reserves which are accumulated operating surpluses from previous fiscal years, saved specifically for such projects; and public debt offering where the college plans to issue about $35 million in bonds through the Washington Higher Education Facilities Authority (WHEFA).

In an email to The Wire, Steve Setchell, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations explained how alumni engagement and support was encouraged for the development of the residential village. 

“We have shared a compelling case for support for the junior-senior residential village and the benefits it will bring to Whitman students. These include creating a more vibrant student residential experience, bringing more students back into the campus core for interaction and connection and helping remove inequities for students going out into Walla Walla in search of quality housing,” Setchell said. “Creating a vibrant campus community is just one of our Upward Together campaign priorities.” 

Setchell went on to describe some of the additional projects that are in the process of being implemented on campus similar to the residential village. 

“There are no other campus projects planned on the scale of the junior-senior residential village. However, at its Feb. 29 meeting, the Board of Trustees is expected to approve LED lighting replacements, accessibility improvements for selected sidewalks, bathrooms and egresses and a new active learning classroom in Olin Hall for the computer science program.”

Vice President for Finance and Administration and Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Jeff Hamrick discussed the ways that the residential village will specifically cater to senior and junior residents. 

“The main way that I see the design of the village being different from the design of other places like Prentiss, or like Jewett and so on and so forth, is that the median experience, there will be in a four-bedroom apartment with a common shared living space, and then shared kitchenette that will have all of the standard amenities needed for food preparation, and food storage,” Hamrick said. “So it’s really, I think, a great way for folks to transition to the kind of environment or context that they’ll live in when they graduate, which for most of our students, will be going to grad school and renting an apartment in a city, or they’ll be going to get their first job and they’ll most likely be renting an apartment in the city, some of our students may buy straight away.” 

The residential village will be composed of three buildings, two named after alumni James Robart and Peter Harvey; the third is yet to be named. The official groundbreaking for the construction is planned for April of 2024 and ideally, the village will be completed in July of 2025 for students to move in August of 2025. 

A distinct difference between the village and other residences on campus is the planned absence of residential assistants. Independent living without live-in residence life staff is intended to encourage self-reliance.

As a consequence of the construction, a few students living in Marcus House and Shady Rill were displaced and had to find housing elsewhere. Hamrick discussed the ways the college accommodated the students who had to move. 

“There were students up until the end of the fall semester at all three buildings. The students who agreed to reside in Marcus Hall for the fall semester were explicitly notified of that and advanced and signed contracts to that effect, and then they were rehoused elsewhere. I’m actually not sure where they were rehoused,” Hamrick said. “I think it was a combination of on-campus housing and off-campus rental properties. 

Vacating the residences did not go without miscommunication, however. Students living in a properties on Shady Rill were not told there would be an interruption prior to the signing of their 12-month lease.

“We went to them and asked them to vacate the premises, offered them accommodation in terms of some moving support and a discounted price on their rental for the remainder of the academic year. And I believe, after a number of back and forths, those students amicably agreed to move out of those houses,” Hamrick said.

An anonymous student living near Marcus House had to move prior to the construction of the village; because of the ongoing back-and-forth between Whitman and their landlord, they have been granted anonymity to protect their housing.  They were informed in the fall of 2023 after they had signed their lease for the property and moved before the start of the spring semester. In an interview with The Wire, they discussed their experience and how they were informed of their departure. 

“So I signed a lease, and then a couple weeks later, they revealed that map of the new Harvey Hall, and they were like, “Look at this great new complex, this will be built here. And we’re planning on building it at this time frame,” they said. ”And I got an email that was like, ‘concerning your lease’ and they didn’t say anything. They said, ‘We have news that will impact your lease.’ And I said I’m abroad right now. Can you please just tell me what this is? I’m pretty anxious about this. And I got no response for [a while]. And then it was actually my friend who lived at the property, who called me and told me what the deal was. And then about 24 hours after that, I finally got the email that confirmed the details that I already knew, because my friend had been the one who told me.” 

The student continued mentioning the difficulties they had when trying to find housing. They were put in an unexpected situation where they were placed in a secondary leasing company instead of through Whitman, as initially anticipated, which led to them signing an unplanned lease and incurring personal expenses for application fees. Although Whitman reimbursed these costs, they experienced significant inconvenience, spending some time after they returned from their semester abroad trying to rectify the situation. Fortunately, because of the circumstances, Whitman provided moving assistance to the student and others affected. 

The student described what they believed should have been done to make the process more accommodating. 

“They should have said as soon as they knew. They should have made the student’s rights much clearer and been more transparent about the process,” they said. “Everything about this was shady. And I think transparency is really what I was hoping for in it.”

The new residential village is expected to break ground in April 2024.

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