By Michelle Adams and Rachel Levy
Shenandoah University administration is unwilling to reveal final costs of last fall’s extensive renovations to the University Inn (UI) residence hall because of what was called moisture problems.
Despite three requests for comment, the University has not given an exact cost for any aspect of the situation that affected the UI, including the cost of the hotel rooms rented to house students temporarily, the remedy of what the University called a moisture issue, and the extensive “upgrades,” that were added to all 107 rooms of the UI.
These costs accrued during the relocation of 203 student residents of the University Inn, who were told by President Tracy Fitzsimmons on Sept. 15, 2016 that they were to be moved to local hotels by the end of the following weekend in response to “increased moisture levels” in a “few UI rooms.” The students remained in these quarters until the start of the spring semester of 2017.
Meanwhile, what the University called a moisture problem was alleviated, and upgrades were made to the rooms, according to Shenandoah’s Director of Communications Emily Burner. The changes to the rooms included new “vinyl plank flooring” to replace what was carpeting, new “overhead lighting” in the rooms and hallways, “new wall outlets [that] include USB ports,” the addition of blinds and the improvement of trim around the windows, the installment of poster strips and additional shelving, paint and upgrades to the walls and ceilings, and, “a completely new heating [and] air conditioning unit with built-in dehumidifier.”
The University is not “going to release the specific cost of the renovations,” Burner said on Feb. 1, “but instead, talk about it in more general terms related to where the funding came from.”
Because Shenandoah is a private institution, rather than state-run, the University is not obligated to share this information with students and is not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.
Last September, The Buzz estimated that the cost of the relocation of students could be as much as $500,000, but this estimate only included the cost of accommodations like increased security, monetary compensation, and the addition of two new shuttle vans that circulated from campus to the hotels, along with salaries of van drivers. The estimate did not include the price of the hotel rooms or the renovations to the residence hall. This estimation was based on a Sept. 23 meeting between The Buzz reporters and Bob Keasler, the University’s vice president for administration and finance.
Although Keasler was unable at any point in the process to provide exact numbers regarding the costs of renovations, he did speak to the magnitude of the projects.
“This is the single largest residence hall on our campus,” Keasler said on Jan. 24. “It’s a big building, it cost a lot.”
After requesting a meeting with President Fitzsimmons, The Buzz reporters were directed to Vice President for Student Life Rhonda VanDyke Colby, who said in a Jan. 27 interview that the University has what can be described as an emergency fund, as well as a fund for upgrades to residence halls, both of which were pulled from to cover the cost of the UI renovations. She was not aware of any major donation to the University by either a trustee or another individual to cover the expenses.
Despite the presence of these funds, the cost “definitely went over what we would have routinely planned to do in any given year of renovation,” VanDyke Colby said, but she said that this was necessary.
“There were facility costs that we would have normally spread out over a number of years, but I’m proud that the University said…we’re not afraid to invest some money to make sure the impact is not too much on students,’” she said. “I was really proud when I got back to town that nobody was saying that we can’t do that for students because it would cost ‘XYZ.’”