B&G publishes flat fees, clarifying planning charges

In a welcome change for students involved in social planning on campus, Buildings and Grounds (B&G) is set to unveil an entirely new policy on fees for party set-ups. The new system sets constant prices for B&G contributions to student-hosted festivities.

In the past, students who wanted B&G to provide tables, chairs, tents, wiring and other supplies for parties and similar social events would be billed after the fact. There were no published, fixed rates for various services, so students had to guess beforehand how much they were going to have to pay. All that will change today when B&G confirms its new “flat-rate” policy. From now on, there will be set prices for each furnishing B&G provides for student-hosted parties.

“We’ve come up with a menu of flat fees,” explained Steve Mischissin, director of facilities and auxiliary services. That way, Mischissin said, students can know costs “up front” and plan accordingly. Items such as tables and chairs will cost a fixed amount. That way, student groups will know in advance how much they will have to pay B&G when they want to host events. Although the policy has already been approved by the administration, B&G will meet today for any final revisions to the plan.

This new policy is a disappointment to some who wanted to see Williams cover such costs entirely. Last year, Charles Dew ’58, professor of history and chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL), and other members of the CUL argued that the College, not the students, should bear the cost of the services B&G provides for party setup. The administration disagreed.

“They felt [budgeting parties] was a learning experience,” said Dew. “I guess I’m persuaded that they had a point. I feel that we had a point too.” Nonetheless, he said, the changed policies are a “half-step” in the right direction. In his eyes, the new system is preferable to the old.

Tim Reisler, assistant director for administrative services at B&G, would like students to understand why B&G feels that students should be charged for various aspects of party organization.

“We’re not trying to restrict activities or save money,” Reisler said. Rather, he feels that adding an element of student fiscal responsibility prevents unnecessary over-budgeting of resources. After working so hard to do setup for student-organized parties, he commented, “it’s really hard when we’re stressed and the events are under-attended.” Making students accountable logically makes them more fiscally conservative and realistic during the planning process. No one is going to pay to seat 500 people if they don’t honestly believe that that many will show up, he said.

Reisler also mentioned that the fees students pay are not to rent tents or chairs from the College, but rather to pay B&G for taking them out of storage, setting them up and replacing them afterwards. Some students feel that it’s unfair for Williams to charge them for items the school is going to get back anyway. Reisler pointed out that it is a question of labor, not money. The only time groups have to pay for the actual equipment or furniture, he said, is when the College doesn’t already own it and has to get it from somewhere else.

Students seem to generally approve the changes. “I would definitely like to see the College subsidize B&G costs for student planning,” said Ching Ho ’03, president of the Swing Club and organizer of some of the largest parties on campus. Given that Williams chose not to do so, Ho seems to guardedly support the new policy.

“A flat rate would be nice, but will probably be cost-averaging…this will negatively affect smaller groups who can’t afford it as much,” he said.

If, for instance, there’s a set fee to install wiring, small parties will have to pay the same price for their modest sound systems as giant extravaganzas do for their booming ones. If this is the case, larger parties are given a break and little ones have to pay extra.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that “small” and “large” are purely relative terms at the College. Ho points out that the policy only applies to fairly substantial events that require setup help from B&G in the first place.

“For a normal house party, B&G plays no role – unless there are damages, a fire alarm or if someone sets off the fire extinguisher,” Ho said. “In that case, they’ll levy a huge fine.”

Drew Newman ’04 took a stronger stance in favor of the changes. The current treasurer of the Student Activities Council (SAC), Newman often has to work with B&G and feels that the new policy is a huge improvement.

“Having an established price list for services will greatly help all student groups planning events,” Newman explained. “Under the current system [that is being replaced], student groups never know how much B&G will charge for a service until weeks after an event. Also, we are often charged different amounts for the exact same services due to their strange formula. . .this makes planning and budgeting extremely difficult for student groups.”

Newman would like to see even more changes made in the future. “Currently, B&G does not give out receipts, invoices or anything else explaining their charges,” he said. “Therefore, it is impossible to tell for what services they have charged us. It would help us immensely if B&G could also give us a receipt for their services.”

The lack of receipts presents a difficulty for groups like SAC that run a large number of events, frequently one right after another. Because billing is done every two weeks, Newman said, it’s sometimes hard to figure out which bills correspond to which parties and activities.

The new policy and menu will be posted online, where everyone will have easy access to it. Students who need set-up help from B&G will need to go through the Student Activities Office.

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