Student Accommodation Services recently announced on Friday 22 June that, due to construction delays to Powell Hall and Whitehorn Hall, those residents would be placed in alternative accommodation, which would either include Albany Park for up to seven weeks and a new contract with Whitehorn Hall or David Russell Apartments and Fife Park (DRAFP) for the whole year.
Additionally, the email to students on 22 June revealed that Powell Hall would be turned into a postgraduate-only hall, despite many undergraduates signing a contract to the hall in February.
Since Friday, many displaced residents have written to the University with their questions and concerns, with a large portion of those affected feeling disappointed and noting that they feel the situation has been handled poorly.
Second-year Sam Stanford was elected Senior Student for Agnes Blackadder Hall (ABH) and Powell Hall in April, and he noted that he is “not entirely convinced the University has done their best job with handling [the situation] so far.”
He said, “I’ve heard of a few students really struggling to get out of this [University-managed accommodation] contract, yet the University can just drop a huge number of them with one email and no consequences, except offering short-term rent-free accommodation with totally different facilities in comparison to what we chose. [It] doesn’t seem quite right to me.
“I can appreciate it was never intended to happen this way, however there was not even a warning given when we chose our accommodation, and once again things happen out of control for the students, yet it’s the students who receive a massive impact from the situation.”
Living in University Hall next year, Miriam Woods, one of two senior students for University Hall and Whitehorn Hall, expressed her disappointment with the current situation for Whitehorn Hall and the difficulties she will face with encouraging community for the students she oversees.
Ms Woods said, “As a committee, having University Hall students separated from the main site will make our job to encourage community spirit and create a super fun freshers week much harder. Considering this, the fact that the university did not even notify us as a committee about the delays and continues to maintain a silence about how it expects us to be effective is pretty troubling.”
She continued, “I would love for the university to provide a solid plan for encouraging displaced students to become happy and integrated members of the University Hall and wider student body, despite their uncertain accommodation.”
Nick Thornton, who is also serving as senior student of University Hall and Whitehorn Hall, echoed Ms Woods’ concerns.
He added, “The University should take responsibility for the poor performance of their contractors, rather than describe the situation as ‘beyond our control’. While alternate accommodation is available, halls are more than just a place to sleep. They give people a sense of belonging when entering a new stage in life.
“The Committee looks forward to working with the University on this problem. However, there has been a lack of communication so far. With University support, we can work to integrate Whitehorn residents from Freshers’ Week onward.”
A shared frustration for many students is the lack of and delay in information from the University.
Jack Rogan served as senior student of Agnes Blackadder Hall for the 2016-2017 year and was involved in consultations for Powell Hall in its early stages. However, he stated that he had “serious issues” with the delays in information from the University.
He said to The Saint, “Why has it taken so long for the University to announce what the contingency plan actually is? I completely understand they were working to a tight schedule for completion and did not plan on the disruption that was caused by the storm, [but] I do find it quite staggering it took this long for the alternative plan to be announced.”
Aaron Fraser, who was set to live in Powell Hall, echoed these concerns.
He said, “This should have all been noticed, discussed and dealt with much much sooner, as there is no hope to find private accommodation this late in the day, and only giving us one week for a reply is not enough time.”
It was revealed in a University Court meeting on 13 April that, due to delays in construction, contingency plans for Whitehorn Hall and Powell Hall were being considered, but that information was not publicised to students until 11 May by The Saint.
However, students were not alerted about the possibility of Powell Hall becoming a postgraduate-only hall until the decision was announced on 22 June, after spaces in Powell Hall had already been allocated to undergraduates.
On the changes to Powell Hall, Mr Rogan said, “[The University] offered spaces to undergraduates, and I see no reason why these offers cannot be honoured. If they are indeed trying to cover up a logistical problem where they have double-allocated rooms, then this is really rather disappointing and I feel there would be more acceptability if they were to say this were the case and that they made a huge mistake in the earlier process.”
Mr Stanford noted that the future of the collaborations between ABH and Powell Hall, as well as its committee, remain unclear and uncommunicated. Mr Stanford was holding a contract for Powell Hall until Friday, and his new offer does not include accommodation in either hall for which he is Senior Student.
Mr Stanford said, “I’m sure everyone from Powell will find accommodation for next year, however I do hope some arrangement can be made to ensure the ABH events are run properly and at a high standard for the residents. I say this since the majority of the committee, including the senior student, now no longer have accommodation in the area they are meant to be working in.”
He also noted concerns that ABH residents may not have access to the facilities of Powell Hall, whether that be for events or studying, though information on this has not yet been revealed by the University.
Mr Fraser was elected as the Returners’ Representative for ABH and Powell Hall and was holding a place in Powell Hall before the University’s announcement.
On Powell Hall, he said, “I think it’s pretty unfair to deem Powell as postgraduate-only and [the University] should have allowed us the option of going back in there if that’s what we choose once it is complete as that’s what we applied for and accepted. Taking it away because of something we had no control over or say in is very disappointing.”
Mr Fraser added, “If they had offered Albany rent free until completion and then allowed us our allocated rooms in Powell I think it would have been handled perfectly, aside from the added complication of committee members which only applies to a very select group.”
Maria Dolotina, who accepted an offer for Powell Hall, expressed concern with the options made available to residents after the delays were announced, as well as Powell Hall no longer being available to her and other undergraduate students.
She said, “I honestly feel that they’ve been irresponsible with the whole situation as we’ve already paid & they’ve confirmed. Giving Albany as the temporary accommodation, when it isn’t ensuite and it’s on the complete other side of town, isn’t really enough to compensate for the unbuilt hall.
“The alternative accommodation should have been ABH, or at least DRA but at a lower price.”
Residents who choose the option of seven free weeks in Albany Park and Whitehorn Hall will instead pay £5688, a savings of £1266, while the option of a room in DRAFP will cost £6691, with no savings.