First phase of Crocker Hall renovations started: Upgrades include accessible bathrooms

Interior renovations of Crocker Hall. (Jared Graf / THE GATEPOST)

The first phase of a multi-year plan to renovate campus’ oldest building, Crocker Hall, began this summer.

The office of Susan Dargan, founding dean of social and behavioral sciences and interim dean of business, is located in the 133-year-old building. Her support staff, as well as visiting lecturers and some of the faculty from the business departments also have offices there.

Dale Hamel, executive vice president, described the renovations to Crocker Hall as a two-phase plan spanning over three fiscal years. FSU currently has a $1.6 million budget set aside for this project. 

According to Hamel, the state’s money comes from the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM), while the University’s money comes from funds borrowed with revenue bonds through the Massachusetts State College Building Authority.

“The state provides 74% of the total funding of this five-year Critical Repairs Spending Plan, and we [FSU] provide 26%,” said Hamel. 

Although the Critical Repairs Spending Plan spans over a five-year period, there’s only enough funding for three years’ worth of work in Crocker Hall.

Recently, DCAMM undertook a strategic capital planning process that focused on critical repairs for state universities. The money each university receives is based on a survey taken by the firm “Sightlines.”  

The survey ranked all FSU facilities and determined a net asset value (NAV) based on their condition. Crocker Hall had a 27% NAV score – the lowest of any facility on campus.

“We have the highest aggregate NAV score of the state universities,” said Hamel. “But obviously, there’s some that are in good shape and some that are in the ‘red category.’”

Patricia Whitney, assistant vice president of facilities operations, said that most of the work in Crocker Hall will take place over the next two summers. 

The only change to Crocker Hall during the school year will be the addition of the MetroWest Economic Research Center (MERC) to the first floor. “So, that’s the only construction you’ll see going on this fall,” said Whitney. 

The renovation plans with the contractor to prepare for MERC are about 95% done, according to Hamel. So far, the contractor replaced the ceiling, installed new lighting, and updated paint on the first floor to get it ready.

Luis Rosero, co-director of MERC and associate professor of economics, said, “We’re just very happy that the MetroWest Economic Research Center is being relocated to be better incorporated with the accounting, economics, and finance departments.

“We are really excited about the facilities under the same roof now. The students will be closer to us – it’s going to be great,” Rosero added.

Other than outside lighting, the current project mainly focuses on renovations to the building’s interior.

According to Whitney, the school received “multiple bids” from contractors who were interested in the project. “When we have a job like this, to meet state procurement requirements, we go out to bid,” she said. “In this case, the contractor we [chose] was the low bid and he got good references, so we continued on with him.” 

The contractor had not done work on campus prior to the first phase this summer, which included an accessible gender-neutral bathroom on the first floor, an upgraded fire alarm system, and preparation work to make additional restrooms on the first floor. 

“There were a couple of major things we were trying to tackle in Crocker. There were certainly things related to structural integrity and maintenance and things that would be invisible to the students, but are really important,” said Whitney.

She credited the improved handicap accessibility on the first floor as one of the hall’s major noticeable changes. 

“We have one restroom on the first floor now, and by the time the next phase is done, we’ll have three restrooms on the first floor,” said Whitney. “We will have significantly improved and redone the bathrooms on the upper floors.” 

One action taken to make the hall more navigable was replacing some of the hardwood floors with carpet. “The wood floors were irregular. They had high bumps in them and divots, so it’s very hard for someone with any kind of disability to maneuver,” said Whitney.

Amidst all the upgrades, an effort has been made to incorporate some of the most prominent aspects of the building into the new renovations. The hardwood floors in the meeting room and near the main entrance were kept and refinished, and the fireplace in the entrance also remains. 

“We really tried to keep the character of the building where it was possible,” Whitney said.

Another goal Whitney said the school sought for the hall was to create a suite that made it easy to locate Dargan and her support staff, as well as give students an area to sit down and wait, instead of pacing up and down hallways. 

In addition, lighting in the first-floor offices and corridors was improved. The lighting is also now wired to the emergency system – meaning if the school loses power, emergency lights inside and on the porch would engage.

Chris Payson, a visiting lecturer for the English department who has an office on the third floor, said, “It looks nice downstairs.” 

By the end of next summer, Whitney projects the completion of accessible bathrooms on the second and third floors. “We’ll have new, comfortable, accessible bathrooms on every floor.”

Regarding the main focus of the renovations, Whitney said, “We know the bathrooms are our number-one priority. But, beyond that, we’re looking at corridors and other lighting.”

Freshman Zachary Beaudet applauded the push for accessible bathrooms throughout the building, saying, “I think it’s pretty good.” 

Crocker Hall was allocated $1.6 million for renovations, but much more is needed for all necessary repairs, so only the most important updates are happening.

“One of the things I think is worth mentioning is this is only a small part of what we have identified for needs in Crocker,” Whitney said. “We recognize there’s more like 8 or 9 million dollars’ worth of work we would like to eventually do.”

If given a larger budget, Whitney expressed interest in redoing the stairwells with rubber flooring, so they’re more resilient and clean. But due to a lack of funds, the rubber flooring, along with renovations inside individual faculty and staff offices, will be put to the side for now. 

“We will continue to look for funding in the coming years to do more things that we know need to be done,” Whitney said.

Although the goal for Crocker Hall is to equip every floor with accessible bathrooms, the building has no elevator. 

Junior Jarred Dulac said, “That doesn’t sound very handicap accessible to me.”

Senior Kelsey Waitt said, “They should focus on getting an elevator in there.”

Crocker Hall’s lack of an elevator is one of the main factors holding it back from achieving a higher NAV score.

Whitney said that in a list of needs, “This would be part of a much larger project in the building, and as we mentioned, we do not have any funding at this point.”

Senior Lauren Cohen said she thinks the accessible bathrooms are a good thing, but “there’s no elevators, so how will handicapped people get there?”

Business professor John Palabiyik, who has an office on the second floor, was also concerned, “I don’t think it’s [upper-floor handicap accessable bathrooms] logical without the elevator.”

Whitney doesn’t consider building accessible bathrooms on the second and third floors a waste of money. “ADA bathrooms help people with all types of needs, not just people in wheelchairs.” 

Payson agreed. “Folks who are in wheelchairs wouldn’t be able to get to those, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that folks with other kinds of disabilities wouldn’t be well served by that space.”  

Whitney added the cost of accessible bathrooms is “not significantly more” than traditional bathrooms, and that rebuilding the restrooms once an elevator eventually does get put in the hall would be the real waste of money.

“I think if they’re going to do it, they might as well do it right and include that space,” said Payson. “It seems like this building’s got some good bones.”

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