When the brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon returned to their Fraternity Quad house from summer break, they found their basement kitchen dismantled, the oven and refrigerator disconnected and moved, and the island countertop gone.
Then, they were informed that a University project is slated to repurpose part of the space as a lounge for workers, something the fraternity claims it was never directly consulted on or informed about.
The news itself added insult to injury. But the effects the brothers think it will have on the quality of life in their house-—and the effects it has already had—point to unintended consequences of the University’s decision.
“Losing this island has cut down on the amount of usable space that we have in the kitchen and therefore cut down on the amount of people who can use the space at a given time,” said junior Josh Hill, the fraternity’s president-elect, speaking on behalf of the organization. “In the past, two people have been able to cook while one prepares their meals; given the space now, one person is really only able to cook at a given time and one person prepare, which takes up the table space someone else could use to eat.”
In turn, some of the twenty-six brothers living there are worried about exhausting their University meal plans—they had planned to rely on the kitchen and taken lower-value meal plans as a result.
Roommates and juniors Erik Rosenkranz and Mitchell Schoellkopf fall squarely into that category.
“When selecting a meal plan I, like all of the people living in the Sig Ep [Academic Living Center], did so with the understanding that I would have access to a fully functional kitchen,” Schoellkopf said in an email to the Campus Times. “I selected the lowest declining plan and planned on preparing a large amount of my own meals. I know that many other students living in the ALC selected the same plan with similar reasoning.”
“I know that it is possible to change meal plans early in the semester as well as between semesters,” he said. “If I had known about the changes that were going to occur to our kitchen, however, I might have decided not to live in the ALC at all.”
Sig Ep’s kitchen serves as both a cooking and eating area, unlike some other fraternity houses, Schoellkopf said, meaning that with removal of the countertop island, brothers are often preparing food where others eat—or are eating, a problem he and others think will be exacerbated with the loss of space in the coming year.
“With the floor and counter space that is being lost with these changes, there will simply not be enough space for people to eat at the same time as others prepare food,” he said.
“In my opinion, these changes show a complete disregard for the quality of life of students in the ALC by the University,” he said, adding that his views come as a concerned student.
Rosenkranz expressed similar frustrations.
“Without the island, I am having to prepare my food, which is commonly some kind of raw meat, on the same table that someone is currently eating on, or will be eating on,” he said in an email, adding that the number of people trying to use the space can hamper food prep.
“If the island was back, it would take away my concerns of contaminated food, and the stress of a crowded space,” he said.
Both he and his roommate believe there are other parts of the floor that could be used for the new lounge instead of the kitchen.
Sig Ep shares its basement with a Residential Life office, Facilities and Services offices, and University storage. The only basement space devoted specifically to Sig Ep is a laundry room and the kitchen.
University Spokesperson Sara Miller said that “Residential Life in conjunction with Facilities determined the best use of the large kitchen space in the building would be a renovation and upgrade of it, as well as splitting off a portion of it to create a much needed break room for Environmental Services employees. This project is still planned, but does not have an exact start date.”
Miller said the space’s refrigerator was removed and relocated in the spring for “other campus summer programming” and was returned at the beginning of this semester.
The island countertop, she said, “was actually an old freestanding surface as part of the previous commercial kitchen sink area, and it was going to be removed as part of the renovation, but has since been replaced in the interim with two tables to supplement the food prep area and/or dining. The kitchen space is fully functional and has been since the beginning of the year.”
None of the brothers interviewed referenced the extra tables, and photos of the space taken by the Campus Times last week show only a single, small table.
In her email response, Miller did not address the lack of communication about the project alleged by Sig Ep brothers.
“We fully support and appreciate our Facilities and ESW workers for all that they do; we understand that they work very hard every day and do not want it to seem that we do not appreciate them for that,” Hill said in reference to the construction project. “We do wish that we were at least consulted with to give our input on how the further reduced space in our basement would affect the brothers in the house.”