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Jameson student petitions against courtyard construction

Photo by Viktoria Marich

With plans to install a Global Village Learning Center in the courtyard between the Jameson residence halls on Douglass campus, Jameson residents — most notably Mary Margaret Mumich, a School of Arts and Sciences junior — is making noise to stop the changes.

Mumich, who started a petition on petition titled "Stop Construction at Jameson Dorm, Rutgers University" in late September, said the construction, which included setting up a large fence around the courtyard, is unsightly and inconvenient.

"It creates an unnecessary amount of noise that interrupts students’ time for studying and sleeping," Mumich wrote in the petition. "It also negatively impacts the surrounding community, as the space is not only utilized by Jameson residents, but by the citizens of New Brunswick, such as children who use the grass to play soccer on, or who use the walkways to practice skateboarding."

The Jameson residence halls house the Global Village, a living-learning community that seeks to foster student diversity, and the Global Village Learning Center, which aims to provide additional housing to the Global Village participants. But the installation of the learning center is posing as a disturbance to pre-existing Jameson residents and removing decades-old trees and bushes — two of Mumich's complaints, among a litany of other issues.

The former Jameson courtyard, which was an expansive area laid with grass, trees and a wooden gazebo, is blockaded, and Mumich pleaded Jacquelyn Litt, dean of the Douglass Residential College and Douglass campus, Gwendolyn Beetham, director of the Global Village and University President Robert L. Barchi to pause construction on the courtyard until "a reasonable agreement can be reached," according to the petition.

“I felt that I had barely any time to enjoy the space before the fence went up and the construction began,” Mumich said in an email.

Sohaa Khan, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she chose to live in Jameson because of the courtyard, and was under the impression that Douglass was the most picturesque campus at Rutgers.

“Not only is the bus stop really convenient, (but) a lot of people told me the Jameson courtyard was really pretty,” Khan said in an email.

But Khan said the construction is not only taking away the aesthetic appeal of the courtyard, but also posing obstacles in terms of commuting. She usually gets to work by cutting across the courtyard, which is no longer possible to do.

The complaints don't stop when she comes inside, either — from her room, she can sometimes hear the construction in the morning from bed and it wakes her, she said.

Despite Mumich's ardent protestations at the work being done on the courtyard, she said she believes there is little to be done at this point in time besides passionately expressing her dissatisfaction with the loss of the courtyard.

“I am unsure as to why Cooper Dining Hall (on Douglass campus) is not being utilized for the new center," Mumich said. "There is a communication gap between Rutgers and the residents, (and) many of them don’t know what is being built in the courtyard or why it has been chosen for the new project."

Khan agreed, and she said she "(keeps) hearing different things" and that there is "definitely a lot" of communication missing between higher-up administrators and students.

With the loss of the courtyard, Mumich suggested creating a new community space or hosting a tree plantation drive to compensate.

Khan believes the money being used for the construction should be diverted elsewhere in the Rutgers community.

“I think Rutgers should put the money that they are using for this construction into better use for more practical things, like perhaps air conditioners in the dorms, getting a proper firewall that doesn't get (attacked) or even more buses,” Khan said.

Dean Litt, one of the individuals Mumich addressed the petition to, said she took a look at the petition and spoke with some residents about their concerns.

“The construction site is also close to the dean’s residence, where I live, so I understand some of the challenges of co-existing with a building project,” Litt said in an email.

The dean’s office and the Rutgers facilities department are working together to increase communication to students living in Jameson and that the dean's office is planning to schedule a meeting with the residents and key Rutgers personnel so everyone can understand the process and be able to ask questions, Litt said.

Finally, the dean's office and facilities department will be providing a project timeline with ongoing communication to the residents to continually update them on the project.

In contrast to the furor raised by students, Litt said the Global Village Learning Center will bolster Douglass student residential life by providing space for additional support services and mentor-led workshops, among other programs.

And as far as the courtyard goes, Jameson will still have it after the construction, Litt said.

The courtyard will be "replenished with new plantings, in keeping with the Douglass campus environment, and space for students to study and socialize outdoors," she said.

Construction complaints came shortly after the Global Village groundbreaking on Sept. 18, where Litt and Barchi were present.

The center, funded in part by alumni and other major donors, indicates a new step in educating women at the University on issues around the world, Litt said in a previous article by The Daily Targum.

Aside from construction on Douglass campus, other Rutgers campuses are experiencing construction too — for more than a year, students complained about the construction on the College Avenue campus. 

The University recently finished building the new honors college, located at 5 Seminary Place. The Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House is currently being built at 70 College Ave., and an "800-bed, apartment-style residence hall" is also currently being built on what used to be Lot 8, former home of the famed grease trucks, across from Scott Hall on the College Avenue campus, according to a University press release on June 20, 2012.

"The construction, to be completed by fall 2016, promises to greatly enhance Rutgers’ oldest campus by adding 674,000 square feet of much-needed academic and residential space," former Rutgers president Richard L. McCormick wrote in the release. "But we realize that it may also raise concerns in the (University) community, especially regarding its impact on parking and the 'grease trucks' that now occupy part of Lot 8."