Debate over air conditioning in Residence Halls heats up

Autumn Dixon

A heatwave last week had Whittier College residential students wondering if the College should install air conditioning. Five out of the College’s seven resident halls are left without any air conditioning, as many of them were built half a century ago. Living in Southern California, where temperatures can reach over 100 degrees, it is easy to see why this might be a problem for current and prospective students.

 Residential Life sent out a Student-L email titled “Beat the Heat,” offering alternative suggestions for students living in buildings without AC. In this email, they invited students to drink more water, visit the pools, and hang out in lounge areas as well as other air conditioned rooms around campus. Buildings like Wanberg and Campbell that do not have air conditioning in individual rooms do have air conditioned lounges. 

 While the email was intended to address the four-day-long heatwave, some feel it was proposing short-term solutions to a long-term problem. Madison Wells, a second-year residential student, believes not having air in her dorm had a drastic impact on her time at the College. “The heat made me feel like I couldn’t go out and do anything,” Wells said. “I felt like if I tried to do anything then I would’ve died from a heat stroke, so I would just stay inside with like three fans pointed at me.”

Fourth-year Residential Community Advisor (RCA) Nikki Dalton offered similar advice to students. “The California heat is undeniable, and I’m always searching for ways to keep cool,” said Dalton. “Though it seems like we may have survived the heat wave finally, you can never go wrong with investing in an oscillating fan! Also, if you open your windows at night to let the cool air in, be sure to close them again in the morning especially if it’s forecasted to get really warm.” In addition to the suggestions from Residential Life in their “Beat the Heat” email, Dalton said that approximately 20 fans were purchased for move-in day in first-year dorms, for students who had not yet purchased one. 

The College is mostly unoccupied during the hottest months of the year, meaning that we get away with not having air conditioning because temperatures usually drop after September. Director of Conference Services George McKernan has been running the Summer Conference program for the past 28 years, which houses international students and various overnight programs on campus during the summer. However this past year, it was so hot that there were serious concerns about having camps stay on the lower campus. “When the temperature rises to 100 or above, some of our customers have complained. Others have not,” said McKernan. “ I do have concerns if the 100 degree heat continues in the summer, as I have received some complaints.” 

According to VP for Finance and Administration Jim Dunkleman, the College has started looking into the possibility of adding air conditioning. “The College had an informal conceptual study in 2016 on the feasibility of installing air conditioning in the three first-year residence halls,” said Dunkleman.  “The primary questions are if it is feasible to install air conditioning at a reasonable cost considering the design and infrastructure of the buildings and if the buildings can then be run with acceptable efficiency.” 

ASWC Senate President and Advocacy Committee Chair Bryce Scurr addressed concerns at Monday’s ASWC meeting. Scurr met with Pérez last Friday to discuss alternatives to AC in the residence halls, including suggestions brought forward by the Environmental Action Committee that may be more cost efficient than a new AC retrofit. Suggestions include film to cover the windows to block direct sunlight and vines going up building walls to block some of the heat, as suggested by chairman Andy Bertelsen. 

The design and infrastructure of the buildings is significant since some of the Residential Halls were built before central air conditioning was a staple in housing. Campbell Hall, which houses international students, was built in 1924. Wanberg Hall was built in 1949, Johnson Hall was built in 1955 (though renovations were done in 2007), Stauffer Hall was built in 1962, and Ball Hall was built in 1966. Turner Hall, Harris Hall, and the off-campus Arbor Ridge apartments are significantly newer and were built with central air conditioning. The Residence Halls Information tab on the College’s website does not state that the majority of the halls do not have air conditioning, but the individual pages for Turner and Harris list it as an amenity.

 Regardless, the hot air in the dorms should be addressed because it affects more than just the students who live there. Scurr said, “First-year residential halls really determine a large part of the atmosphere that students feel when they come on campus, and we want students to stay. Retention rate is something we want to keep increasing, and it has been increasing, so it’s something [Residential Life] should keep in mind.” ASWC Senate has its meetings  Mondays at 7:00 p.m. in Villalobos, and Advocacy meets on Wednesdays at 4:30 p.m. in the Senate Office if you have any comments or concerns about AC.