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As fall transforms freshmen into budding sophomores, it also marks the move to upperclassman housing. This adjustment is exciting, but comes with drawbacks. One of the most noticeable differences is the lack of air conditioning in many upperclassmen houses.
Elsah, Illinois is notoriously hot and humid during the summer months, which makes some students wonder why upperclassmen dorms still lack air conditioning. There are several theories circulated by students to explain this fact, the most popular being lack of funding.
According to home life manager Reid Charlston, there are four houses that currently do not have air conditioning: Buck House, Howard House, Brooks House, and Sylvester House. Installing air conditioning into these houses seems like it could be a relatively cost-efficient project, but in fact, the cost would be somewhere close to $2 million per house.
Charlston explained that this estimate came from the installation of the fire sprinkler systems several years ago. He said, “[the sprinkler systems] are sort of similar in scope as far as the drilling and piping that would have to happen [to install air conditioning].” He added, “But it could be that the sprinklers were easier [to install] than the air conditioning would be.”
According to Charlston, the sprinklers were made a top installation priority for every single house on campus in 2008. The cause? Illinois passed a law that required student housing to have sprinklers installed. Charlston said, “We were on schedule to have air conditioning installed in each house [prior to the passage of] the state law… It was a huge project that we didn’t know was coming.”
Since then, said Charlston, “The economy [has taken] a significant indent, so I don’t think [installing air conditioning] has come back as being a top priority.” But it’s not a lost cause either; Charlston added, “I know [air conditioning] is something constantly brought up… [The issue is] just how to allocate the funds at this point.”
Some students have tried to stay cool by installing individual air conditioning units in their rooms, only to discover that doing so is not permitted. Charlston explained that this rule has its origins in the age of the houses. He said, “Some of our houses are almost 90 years old, and… the electrical systems just can’t hold that kind of capacity. We’d just be blowing circuit breakers all the time, especially considering all the other technology [like microwaves and televisions] being plugged in these days.”
Charlston added, “Even one [individual air conditioning unit] could be a problem, because the rooms are strung together by circuits. Three or four rooms may be on one circuit, and so depending on how [many electronics students] are plugging in, that could blow a circuit.”
Charlston said that installing air conditioning remains a priority for Student Life. He said, “We want to see the houses air-conditioned… We are always pushing towards it, especially [since] the move to semesters [which causes students to] come back [earlier] in August.”
While plans for fully air-conditioned upperclassmen houses are still being worked on, Principia has a number of contingencies in place. All house living rooms and rec rooms have air conditioning. Unoccupied rooms in the freshman dorms are available to those who need to use them to escape the heat, and houses like Gehner are air conditioned and serve as summer housing, when it is hot for a significant amount of time.