March 23, 2009

C.U. Ensures West Campus Fire Safety

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As Sinead Lykins ’12 was about to start her Spring Break, she was unpleasantly surprised when maintenance personnel arrived at her Lyon Hall dorm room, intent on removing the two interior doors in her three-room suite.
As part of an effort to bring certain West Campus dorms into compliance with fire code changes, Cornell Housing scheduled interior doors to be removed from several West Campus dorm rooms on the afternoon of March 13.
A City of Ithaca inspector determined during his February visit that these rooms were in violation of the modified fire code, since they failed to comply with a section of the code that prohibits sleeping rooms to be the only means of access to other sleeping rooms or “habitable spaces,” meaning that both beds in a two-room suite must be in the room entered through the interior door to satisfy the code.
Lykins, who had elected to stay in Ithaca over Spring Break with one of her three roommates, voiced discontent with Cornell’s timing of these maintenance changes.
“I feel that the removal of the doors over Spring Break was a particularly underhanded way to go about it,” she said.
Although Lykins convinced the maintenance professionals not to remove her doors, it wasn’t until roughly three hours later that she received an e-mail from her Residence Hall Director, Kimberly Barth, informing her that her suite was in violation of the fire code.
“If, like our roommates and fellow residents of Lyon Hall, we had left campus for Spring Break, our interior doors would already be gone, and we would then have to lobby for the return of the stolen doors,” Lykins stated in an e-mail.
Lykins later learned from discussion with Barth that the doors could be returned if the four women occupying the suite rearranged their beds so that the central room with the exterior door was not used as a bedroom, leaving the rooms on either side of the central room to be used as doubles.
For Lykins and her roommates, this posed a problem.
“Our three room suite was originally designed to hold three people, not four,” Lykins said, explaining that one of the side rooms in her suite was too small to reasonably fit two beds. Lykins added that living in the suite without interior doors would be very difficult, given their different schedules and sleeping habits. Having any degree of privacy would also be fairly difficult.
“It’s a privacy issue first and foremost,” Lykins said. “It’s going to be a problem to change our living habits to accommodate the removal of the doors.”
The third option outlined by Barth was to move one of the four women to another room somewhere on campus. The roommates were given until March 22, the day before classes resumed, to decide.
Karen C. Muckstadt, director of facilities management, acknowledged that an error was made somewhere along the communication chain in not informing the affected individuals that their interior doors would be removed prior to their scheduled removal.
“There was a gap in communication…That gap has been rectified,” she said.
“The young women [whose doors were removed] have been engaged in conversation and we’re working toward a positive solution,” Muckstadt added.
Muckstadt stressed that the doors were removed to ensure a safe living environment, and stated that only a limited number of rooms were affected by this fire code modification.
For Celeste Falcon ‘12, whose two-room suite also had an interior door removed, the change was similarly unexpected and unwelcome. Falcon, too, was told that relocation of both beds to the room accessed by the interior door would solve the problem, but Falcon explained that this was impossible.
“Moving the beds into the interior room would leave only a foot, maybe a foot-and-a-half, between the beds, and that’s ridiculous,” Falcon said.
Falcon, too, was offered relocation, and decided that was the best option available to her.
However, she wasn’t happy about the entire situation.
“I feel like the fire code doesn’t make sense. I don’t like the way it was handled in that they did this over Spring Break, when we didn’t have a chance to do anything about it,” she said.