February 5, 2007

Students Content With Bethe House

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When dorms opened on Jan. 15, approximately 320 students, many of whom lived in Class of ’18 or Class of ’26 halls in the fall, moved to the new Hans Bethe House.

“It was really easy,” said Mike McDermott ’09 of his move to Bethe House on West Campus. “They just moved it all for us. Big Red Storage was awesome. But I wish [the building] were done. The TV room’s locked and the pantry’s not finished; some of the radiators make a lot of noise but overall, it’s a really, really nice place,” he said.

The new dorm is similar to the Alice Cook and Carl Becker Houses, and is equipped with a 350-person dining hall, a pantry, a library, a TV lounge, a music room and a laundry room, all of which are open 24 hours. West Side Express, located on the south facade of Bethe, has replaced the old Jansen’s, serving students as late as 3 a.m. on weekends. This is the third of five residential houses in the West Campus Residential Initiative (WCRI), which will be completed in 2009.

“Our transition was very smooth. Residents had few, if any, difficulties with the whole process. They were able to leave ’18 and ’26 for winter break and come back to their boxes in their new Bethe rooms in January,” said Kimberly Barth ’06, Bethe House Residential Hall Director.

Students had to register for the move by Nov. 30 and schedule appointments with Big Red Shipping and Storage. They also received packing supplies from the old Noyes Community Center. Cornell paid for Big Red Shipping and Storage’s services.

“It’s still a residential hall, just in a house wrapper,” said William McCouch ’07, chair of the Hans Bethe Hall Council.

The house system, which McCouch calls a “Harry Potter type atmosphere,” referring to the residential colleges of Hogwarts, will be implemented in Bethe next fall.

“The wall between the academic and the living side of things [doesn’t exist],” McCouch said, referring to the residential system at Cook and Becker.

Instead of undergraduate residential advisors, there are Graduate Resident Fellows who are responsible for programming.

“The idea of the house system is to build community,” McCouch said.

Although the WCRI is a huge and costly project, it has been criticized for not addressing one major issue: the housing shortage on campus. Bethe House has the largest dining hall on West Campus but room for about 45 fewer residents than the Class of ’18 and ’26 Halls. Most of the students who did not make the move from the class halls to Bethe went abroad or have internships for the spring semester.

However, “a handful of students moved off campus to different areas,” Barth said.

There is still room left in the Bethe House, which the Cornell housing office is currently trying to fill.

“A lot of people are pissed that we only house 50 percent of students on campus, whereas other schools have 80 or 90 percent. Many people sign leases for apartments a year or more in advance because they know of the shortage in housing availability. The [WCRI] wasn’t designed to address the shortage, though many feel that it should have because of this,” McCouch said.

Students had mixed feelings about leaving the Class of Halls, which are currently in the process of being demolished.

“It wasn’t that bad for me. I only live an hour away and took most of my stuff home. I like it because everything’s new,” said Steve Levine ’09. “People who were on my floor last semester are spread out on all five floors here, but I didn’t get really close with them.”

Pedro Pedroza ’08 lived in Class of ’26 Hall last fall and is moving to his fraternity house this semester, since he was assigned a double in Bethe House.

“The dorms were very basic. They were small and just falling apart. The doubles were really tiny. It wasn’t very social either,” he said of his former dorm.

“I kind of miss it,” McCouch said. He lived in Class of ’18 Hall for the past two and a half years. “There was a time when it was the premier place to live. It was quiet with big, spacious rooms. It was the closest to apartment-style living that you could get on campus.” One year, he was even given a quad for himself.

The next steps in WCRI include the building of unnamed Houses #4 and 5 and the controversial demolition of the Class of ’17 Hall, which houses the Transfer Center.

Despite criticism of the initiative, all seemed to agree that the new Noyes Community Center is a huge and much-needed improvement. The new community center has a gym with a climbing wall and a fitness center, as well as wireless internet access and a multi-purpose room.

“All the stuff that the freshman have on North that we never had is there. You sort of had it for a year and then it’s all taken away,” said Faram Ahmad ’07.

Referring to the previous fitness center, “It’s much more than the closet they used to have on West,” Levine said.