Ellingson reconstruction part of ongoing plan

For the past several weeks, rumors about the construction taking place in Ellingson Hall have spread rapidly. These include claims that the first-year dorm is being transformed into suites or converted into an upperclassman dorm. The reconstruction has already commenced, but there seems to be a bit of a discrepancy as to what will actually happen in the dorm. Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Pamela McDowell helped to clear up any misunderstandings.

During the summer of 2011, construction crews painted the dorm, put in new windows, replaced floor and ceiling tiles and updated the lounge. So why is Ellingson getting all of the attention once again? Contrary to what many students believe, the construction crews are not redoing what they just did; according to McDowell, the changes currently taking place are simply a continuation of the reconstruction from last summer.

“We never finished Ellingson,” McDowell said. “We only get 11 weeks during the summer to work on these projects, and it just isn’t enough time to accomplish everything.”

As many current Ellingson residents already know, construction crews are moving the bathrooms to the end of the hallway and converting the center of the hallways, the current location of the bathrooms, into a lounge on each floor.

“Opening up the area where the bathrooms used to be into a lounge space will let in more light and allow for more cross-communication between the opposite sides of the hallway,” McDowell said. This new arrangement will lead to an even more community-oriented living for the future residents of Ellingson. The construction will also make Ellingson more accessible for all students.

“At this time, there isn’t really a dorm that is designed for freshmen with physical disabilities,” McDowell said.

The new construction plan will hopefully help solve this problem. It incorporates the installation of an elevator, which will allow students with physical disabilities to have access to all floors. A single, private bathroom, including a bathtub, will be built at the end of each floor as well to accommodate students with medical conditions.

The heating system is also going to be redone this summer, which means that the benches in each room will be removed. The bay windows will remain, providing a place for students to furnish their rooms with their own furniture if they choose. McDowell pointed out that students will not necessarily see some important improvements to the building that happen behind closed doors, including the heating system, the water pipes and the plumbing.

“Assistant Vice President for Facilities Pete Sandberg really knows our buildings. He knows what needs to be changed and in what order,” McDowell said.

Installing a new heating system that can be controlled farther away from the windows, similar to the set-up in Hoyme, will give students more control of the temperature in their rooms and will also be more economically and environmentally responsible, McDowell said.

However, McDowell anticipates a few potential difficulties.

“We are going to have to see how it goes and manage problems as they come,” she added.

“For some students, it is going to be a much longer walk to the bathroom, and the new lounges might be a little louder. But overall, these are some exciting changes for Ellingson that should make it a better place to live,” McDowell said.

She hopes the lounges will draw people out of their rooms and into conversation and community-building with each other.

McDowell explained that working on one dorm at a time is more efficient and cost-effective than spreading out the projects across various buildings on campus. St. Olaf administration evaluates what needs to be fixed and how to do it in a way that benefits the community of students and staff and then carefully prioritizes projects based on what they discover.

Improving residence halls is the top priority right now, and Kittelsby and Kildahl will most likely be next on the agenda.

“We construct buildings that are meant to last,” McDowell said. “The materials we use are environmentally-friendly, student-friendly and custodian-friendly. They are overall great investments.”

For now, Ellingson is the focus, and as summer draws nearer, construction will pick up. Students currently living in Ellingson are patiently enduring the noise from the construction, knowing that after the remodeling is complete, it will be a place with even greater opportunities for future Oles to live, learn and grow together.