Asa Daniels, senior staff writer
The Oak Hill Residences opened on Wed. Aug. 18, as a living space for upperclassmen at Berry College. According to the Oak Hill Residences page on the Berry website, CEVIAN Design Lab, who helped design the Bell Recital Hall in the Ford Auditorium, also designed the new residences. The renovations of the complex were done by Brasfield and Gorrie, who helped construct the recently completed animal science building. However, there were security concerns and other issues that had yet to be fully addressed when residents moved in.
The biggest concern was the lack of a functional security gate at the front of the residences. This meant that anyone besides students was able to enter into the complex. However, on Aug. 25, the gates became operational, according to Lindsay Norman, associate dean of students.
Another issue was the lighting of the overflow parking spaces, which is located in a lot that Berry has leased out from the neighboring US MedClinic. However, according to Norman, lights have since been added along the side of the building. There are also two doors on the rear end of the building that have yet to be completed. Norman said that they are going to be finished soon. While the original plan was to completely close off those entrances with a fence, it was realized that they needed to be open for potential fire concerns.
“In case of a fire or evacuation, that actually has to be an egress,” Norman said. “So, if we created a fence and there was some type of emergency on the other side, everybody going out that way obviously wouldn’t be able to safely exit.”
Once complete, the doors can be opened from inside but not from outside, Norman added.
While the security changes have been ongoing, campus police have also been patrolling the complex regularly.
Norman said that there was a challenge of either having everything finished or having a place for upperclassmen to stay given the influx of freshmen.
“I think what we were really pushed up against [was], if we’d had waited for these to be installed, where would have these students gone in the interim?” Norman said.
Additionally, the Residences had to be advertised quickly due to the tardiness of freshmen room assignments.
“We didn’t have freshman room assignments until July 20,” Norman said. “We were having to advertise it before we could even fully understand the extent of the renovation.”
One of the residents, senior Claire Rowan, said that she was looking forward to going to the Oak Hill Residences to continue enjoying amenities not found in traditional housing.
“My roommate and I ended up in Morgan/Deerfield and we’d been in Thomas Berry so I didn’t really want to go back to traditional housing after, you know, having our own bathroom, our own kitchen, so when they said [the Oak Hill Residences] would have a private room and private bathroom, we were excited,” Rowan said.
While Rowan likes the new residences and appreciates their closeness to campus, she has felt concern for her safety while in the complex.
“I do sometimes, park a little way down [from my door] and I’m cautious, I’ll look outside my doors and be aware of my surroundings,” Rowan said. “I don’t feel nearly as comfortable [as] walking to my car on campus at night.”
Norman said that she appreciates the security concerns that students and their families have expressed over the new residences.
“Those are my concerns too and I want students to know that,” Norman said. “I’m on board and I want students to feel secure.”
Another topic residents were worried about was not having a laundry room; however, the equipment has now been installed.
The new card system is also still being adjusted at the residences so that students can access the common areas with their key cards. Berry was not given access to the system until a week before classes started, Norman said. Norman explained that in the meantime residents can check out a key from the RAs to enter the common areas instead of using their student IDs.
Students were also curious when and if a kitchen would be installed; however, Norman explained that it would require changes to the building that are not possible at this time.
“In order to add kitchens, [the contractors] would have had to drastically change the construction, from my understanding,” Norman said. “It would’ve meant adding a significant structural break, like a firewall, in order to be able to get a permit to do that kind of work. If we had gone in that direction, the student rooms would not have happened.”
In the meantime, Norman said that certain equipment will be installed so that residents can get some of the aspects of having kitchens to make their own food.
The pool at the Oak Hill Residences opened on Sat. Aug. 28. It is only for residents of the Oak Hill Residences.
Senior Isabella Triggs, one of three Resident Assistants at the Residences, said that Residence Life has been communicating clearly with them, including giving RAs the same kind of information or lack thereof that they have.
“They give us very vague dates because things get pushed back with the shortage we’ve experienced with the pandemic, they don’t want to promise us an exact date when they don’t have that themselves,” Triggs said.
Triggs added that Residence Life has been responsive to RA and students’ opinions regarding the residences.
“They’re very open to us and to our suggestions and our residents’ suggestions, as well,” she said. “Our residents were venting some of the problems they felt needed to be addressed and we said take it to Residence Life, because that’s the best way to get things solved and they sat down and talked to them and called them.”
Senior Brad Smith, another RA at the Residences, said that a problem they’ve had to address is balancing residents’ concerns and wants with Residence Life’s limited ability to address them.
“You’ve got Res Life doing what they can and students who, rightfully, [want] these things, but at the same time, there’s nothing you can do. I say that’s the biggest challenge, people wanting things that just take more time than they think it might,” Smith said.
Triggs added that the community aspect at the Residences is different than a traditional hall and that this has been a particular challenge for the RAs.
“There’s not the whole hall community, the rooms go right outside, and so it’s a lot different because there’s no going across the hall to your neighbors, you know, to hang out, it’s more like individual people just kind of living in an apartment complex,” she said.
However, she added that she and the other RAs, including Emily Estrada, are planning events to help the residents get to know one another.
Triggs said that she enjoys her job there as a spokesperson between Residence Life and the students at the Residences.
“Being able to be there for these people, [to] be there to help them with a problem and being able to understand it so you can better explain it to Residence Life, because we’re living [there] too, has been really nice because it’s nice to be an advocate for these [residents],” Triggs said.