24-hour Paresky central to student life

When the Paresky Center opened last February and our front page read “heart of campus beats again,” the metaphor wasn’t just idle poetry. Even when all the offices were locked up and the dining facilities were closed, the building was dotted with students who congregated on couches and in corners. The building had become the College home and the only place on campus where, every hour of every day, the only qualification for entering was one’s student status. But now, with the decision to close its doors from the hours of 2 to 7 a.m., our campus hub is experiencing an unexpected cardiac murmur. This unwelcome change in operational policy needs to be re-examined.

No other late-night space accommodates student life like Paresky does. Goodrich Hall, which previously held the position of the all-inclusive, all-hours domain of students, has been closed for almost a year, and has an uncertain future; where once there were couches, there may be a ballet bar. Libraries cannot be open all night due to staffing issues. And the fact of the College’s remote location and that the commercial district closes most of its doors at 5 p.m. eliminates the possibility of escaping to a coffee shop or diner.

Most of the other 24-hour spaces are all only selectively accommodating in one fashion or another. Buildings such as the JRC, the houses on Morley circle, and the ’62 Center house mostly special interests who hang out there all the time. Why does the College trumpet the merits of burning the midnight oil at these niche-based campus spaces while, at the same time, they wag a finger at keeping lit the one place students – even if only a few – actually are using at all times?

This decision is especially divisive considering the neighborhood system has already segmented campus into four social spheres. Although the relatively short distance between clusters doesn’t exactly prevent inter-neighborhood socializing, Paresky was an important hub in bridging this divide. However few students Security may have found in its late-night searches, for some, “wee” hour talks in Paresky did indeed constitute an important part of student life. Just ask the students planning a sit-in to protest Paresky’s new closing time.

So, has this become a battle of community versus sustainability? Does a commitment to energy efficiency necessarily preclude late-night bonding around an empty Paresky fire grate? Certainly not. In fact, we can have our (green) cake and eat it too. And it starts by making concessions in other parts of the campus – something the committee that made the decision to close the building didn’t seem to consider, or if it did, failed to communicate to the students.

Those concessions can begin with other 24-hour buildings around campus. Curiously, the large and well-lit ’62 Center is open for business at all hours of the night. Yet when looking for an anytime, anywhere hang-out spot, the theater isn’t first – or even fifth – on most students’ list. Even if closing the ’62 Center for a few hours a day doesn’t make up, watt-for-watt, the energy expenditures of Paresky, it would be a good step and one that would have a minimal affect on student life.

But what’s concerning isn’t just Paresky’s shortened hours, but also the way in which this news was conveyed to us. On Dec. 13, 2007, nestled in the daily messages somewhere between the invitation to the Chapin Library farewell party and “Countdown to the Holidays. This Is Day 5!” was Doug Schiazza’s explanation that the administration could no longer justify keeping this behemoth building burning all night; basically, because it glows, it goes. This was a decidedly evasive manner of delivering information, especially in light of the fact that, three days earlier, Schiazza sent an all-campus e-mail inviting students to the “SuperStressbusters ‘sweet’ candyland/Willy Wonka” event.

The opacity with which this decision became a reality follows hard upon the absurdity of its method of delivery. Besides those who sat on the Paresky Advisory Committee, some of whom were of mixed opinion regarding the choice, no student knew that Paresky closing was up for discussion; not even the body of College Council was informed. Instead, the decision was made and finalized during final exams, when no student groups were active and could react.

Furthermore, the committee failed to provide sufficient rationale for its decision. Clearly, leaving a 72,000 square foot building open all the time expends a lot of energy. But how much exactly? Upon issuing its decision, the committee failed to provide the real data and still has not, weeks later. Striking the balance between community needs and sustainability goals is an impossible task unless we know what the numbers we’re dealing with actually are.

Dean Merrill and other campus sustainability leaders have often spoken of their efforts as small, under-the-radar measures that, when taken seriously, greatly improve the way our campus utilizes energy. Now, quite out of the blue, the central building on campus has become sustainability enemy number one, seemingly without anyone taking into consideration the smaller, less obtrusive ways to save the same amount of energy without significantly affecting student life. Let’s find a sustainability enemy that this community is willing to live without.