An unfinished home was the best way to describe the Palmetto North facility on the day of Tuesday, August 22, 2017. Instead of students moving into their newly renovated apartments, students were met with debris, mold, mildew and other safety issues.
The extreme diligence and hustle of the construction crews working around the clock to prepare Palmetto North, sadly, was not enough to accommodate the influx in enrollment of students and meet the tight due date.
Jennifer Wilder, director of university housing, is now six months into her position at FAMU. Already, she has been diligently working with parents and students on the recent housing issues. However, she remains extremely proud of her staff and the university for quickly resolving the problems on their ever-expanding to-do list.
“I think the University has demonstrated and our department has demonstrated that the health and safety of our students are our biggest concern”, said Wilder. “We work together, it’s hand in hand. So, we’ll work with you (the student), but I need you to work with me too.”
Wilder stressed that timing had a lot to do with the buildings not being finished. Initially, only four buildings were to be renovated in Palmetto North, however, due to the continued increase in first-year students, they were obligated to open all seven buildings to accommodate. Resulting in being at 100 percent capacity on move-in day.
When asked what the goal of university housing for the current school year Wilder said, “I want students to realize we really do care about their well-being and safety and that we are going to be as responsive as possible.” She encourages students to document their communication with the housing department via email so communication can easily be recorded within the department.
Renee Innocent, a freshman criminal justice major, traveled eight hours North from her hometown of Pompano Beach, FL to attend Florida A&M University.
When arriving at Palmetto North, she was greeted by directly the opposite of her high expectations. Not too long after moving in, Innocent and her roommate were prompted to remove their items by the FAMU housing department. The two of them along with other Palmetto North residents would spend the rest of the week in a hotel funded by the university until renovations were finished.
The 45 displaced students were checked into near-by hotels and asked to give the housing department until at least Friday, August 25, to complete renovations.
“They were working so hard around the clock to make sure that everything was ready,” said Innocent. “The whole week we were kind of hoping and praying everything would get together.”
Despite the disruption during welcome week, Innocent is very grateful for the housing department. So much, that she is going to pursue being a Resident Assistant (RA) for the next school year. “I’m very grateful that they worked so hard to make this place livable for us. I really like it here.”
Herley Gaston, a Resident Assistant of Truth Hall, stated, “this year, definitely with Dr. Wilder, there are a lot of changes being made.” Gaston is hopeful that one day closed residence halls such as Cropper, Wheatley, McGuinn and Diamond Hall will reopen one day to rebuild the community around Truth Hall.
Gaston’s wish has the possibility of being fulfilled. Wilder states the university is considering new housing. She also stated residence halls currently closed would be costlier to renovate up to standards than building an entirely new facility. However, all options are being reviewed.
Students should be aware that maintenance projects are happening across campus in order of importance. Gibbs Hall will be undergoing construction for a new roof within the next week, Phase III had significant maintenance done over the summer. This included new condensate lines, water shut-off valves, lighting, and added accent borders in the elevator lobbies.
Wilder urges students to ask themselves, “have you, as a student, done everything you can do to help the situation be the best it can be?” Using the proper mechanisms put in place for a timely response from housing or maintenance will also help. Students can email maintenance directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The student body may not notice the improvements of residence halls externally, however internally, much work is being done to better accommodate the students. Residence halls play a key role in establishing a campus community. The changes undergone this school year should allow that relationship to improve and prosper.