College moves forward with AC installment

The Stearns Hall common room enjoys two air conditioning units installed Summer 2017 at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Margaret Su/The Occidental

Beginning this summer, Occidental College plans to install air conditioning in the five remaining residence halls that do not currently have it: Stearns, Haines, Chilcott, Steward-Cleland (Stewie) and Pauley Halls. Facilities staff will renovate Stearns Hall first. One additional hall per summer will receive air conditioning until all residence halls on campus are equipped by 2022, according to Director of Residential Education and Housing Services (REHS) Chad Myers.

Although REHS has requested air conditioning in all the residence halls for nearly a decade — at least since Myers’ arrival in 2009 — it was only in January of this year that the college began to consider approving the request.

According to Amos Himmelstein, vice president and chief operating officer, the Stearns project has not yet received final approval and the total project cost has not been determined. Himmelstein said that if the project is officially approved, the funding will come from college resources that are set aside for facilities renovation and replacement projects.

Annual Fund Assistant Director Linneen Warren ’16 said donors can designate their gifts specifically to a fund allocated for the expansion of air conditioning in residence halls.

“We’ve been advocating for [air conditioning] since I’ve been here for nine years, so we think it’s a necessity and a need for students,” Myers said.

According to an email Dean of Students Rob Flot sent to students March 6, the staggered installation of air conditioning is due to limited financial resources: since it can cost up to $1.5 million to retrofit air conditioning into a residence hall, it is not possible to install air conditioning in all of the halls at once, Flot wrote.

Facilities staff will test out the installation process on Stearns due to its isolated location on campus, Myers said. The addition of air conditioning in the five residence halls requires the installation of new electrical grids. According to Myers, while the other four halls will share one grid per two halls, Stearns will have its own grid, making it the ideal hall to start with.

Since the new electrical grids will be located outside of the residence halls, Facilities staff can begin installing them during the semester, according to Myers. But the air conditioning units within the halls cannot be installed until summer, when students have moved out. REHS’s role, Myers said, is to hold Facilities accountable to a timeline that will allow students to move back in on time in August.

Myers acknowledged that halls without air conditioning can be uncomfortable, especially during the beginning of the fall semester, but noted that air conditioning is only really necessary for the first month or so of the school year.

“For the most part, AC isn’t a necessity. Tons of apartment buildings across Los Angeles don’t have AC in them as well,” Myers said. “But I think going to a school such as Oxy with a price tag such as Oxy’s, it’s an expectation [since] you’re paying a lot more than what those apartment dwellers are paying.”

One solution that REHS implemented three years ago to cool down halls without air conditioning is to rent portable air conditioning units and place them in common spaces in the halls. According to Myers, REHS rents the units for the first six weeks of the fall semester, which costs a little over $12,000.

Students who reside in halls without air conditioning often bring in their own portable air conditioning units, which are against college policy, Myers said. According to Stearns Resident Advisor (RA) Eric Malmquist (junior), such units can be hazardous, potentially causing blackouts in the entire hall. Due to the danger posed by the high power consumption of these units, students found in possession of them go through the student conduct process, according to Myers.

Eric Malmquist (junior), a resident advisor for Stearns Hall, is excited by the prospect of having air conditioning in his residence hall at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Margaret Su/The Occidental

“As RAs, it’s part of our job. We have had to write up people [for possession of portable air conditioning units],” Malmquist said. “[We] understand why they want it, but it’s against college policy.”

Malmquist, who is in his second year as an RA and resident in Stearns, has experienced the summer heat firsthand.

“I live on the third floor, the hottest floor,” Malmquist said. “It is pretty unbearable for a couple months, but generally during the winter and stuff it’s not that big of a deal.”

The relatively small size of Stearns rooms, in addition to the small windows, trap heat in the building, according to Malmquist. A few residents have rooms with balconies, which increase airflow, but most resort to placing fans in their windows and leaving their doors open in an attempt to encourage circulation.

According to Malmquist, who also works as a tour guide for the Office of Admissions, the lack of air conditioning can be a subject of concern for prospective families. Although he is personally indifferent since he has never lived in a residence hall with air conditioning, he thinks the plan to install it will make the college more attractive.

“People ask all the time, ‘Do the buildings have AC?'” Malmquist said. “That can be a big draw point, especially for people who come from the Midwest or the East Coast, where you don’t have quite the heat all year round. For them, living in 100-degree weather in the summer is insane without air conditioning.”