During the summer of 2022, renovations of residential buildings began with Severance Hall. The renovations were part of the Residential Hall Renewal Plan, which Dave Chakraborty, assistant vice president for Facilities Management and Planning, announced on Apr. 22, 2022. The Residential Hall Renewal Plan, which is slated to span 10 years and cost $250 million, was developed in 2019. Design plans for Severance Hall started in the summer of 2021.
Michelle Maheu, director for Planning, Design and Construction, explained that Severance Hall was chosen as a “case study” in addressing the needs of larger halls.
“The construction started on May 30 and ended on Aug. 14, only 11 weeks to complete a huge amount of work,” Maheu told The News.
Alice Zhang ’25, who lived in Severance Hall her first year, stated that due to the maintenance issues she encountered last year, renovations were an important factor in her decision to live in Severance again. Zhang recalled finding mold in her first-year triple multiple times, but she was not sure why there were different approaches to addressing the issue.
“There were some [students] that had to move dorms. My room had mold a couple times, but they[facilities]only asked someone to bleach the walls,” Zhang said. “The root cause was the pipes leaking water, but I guess they couldn’t really fix that while the residents were still living here.”
Maheu acknowledged that while all buildings have “significant deferred maintenance,” the residential halls of Tower Complex needed to be addressed first because they had gone the longest without significant renovations completed.
Maheu’s reasoning for Severance undergoing construction first was because it would be fully accessible, and the College wanted to renovate the accessible halls first. The total projected cost of renovating Severance Hall is $16 million, according to Maheu.
Ashley Yuan ’24, a current resident of Severance, said she was happy with the renovations.
“I’m glad that the College cares about student life enough to invest in this type of large-scale change, and I’m excited to see the other residence halls also go through this,” Yuan said.
Maheu specifically outlined the planned changes in the building. Construction of Severance Hall was broken down into two phases over two summers, throughout the summer of 2022 and the summer of 2023. Both phases for construction are equal in scope, but each phase is applied to half of the building. Renovations of the interior included “new plumbing, piping and bathrooms; new electrical wiring with upgraded Wi-Fi; new heating systems; new lighting, new flooring and paint, new kitchenettes and new furniture in the common spaces.” The scope of exterior renovations was “masonry repointing and clearing, window repair, select roof repair and stone repairs.”
In announcing their renewal plans, the College touted major improvements in sustainability and accessibility to the residential halls. Maheu added that the renovations would integrate a “new heat system which will replace the existing steam radiators and will provide energy efficiency and thermal comfort,” as well as “added insulation to the exterior walls and interior storm windows” to help the College achieve its commitment to greenhouse gas reductions by 2040.
In doing renovations, they installed meters to track power, water and heat usage, and chose materials for interior design with sustainability in mind. The College plans to follow their Accessible Housing Plan approved by the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board (MAAB) while upgrading residence halls.
According to Maheu, “Severance will be a fully accessible hall when it’s completed next year, providing not only accessible mobility and hearing rooms for students, but also an accessible laundry room, dining room, common spaces, etc.”
While renovations did not weigh in on her decision to live in Severance, Lamees Rahman ’24 appreciated the new floors and chairs in the dorm rooms. She currently resides in Sev Crows, a separate section of the hall, because she wanted to block with friends.
However, Rahman was disappointed with the design changes made to the basement. She explained that the basement, covered in graffiti from past Wellesley students, was replaced with an “artificial” repeating wallpaper sticker containing pieces of the original graffiti.
“It felt very retro, old and nostalgic. It had a lot of character and history; those were years of people’s memories that can’t be replaced. Now, it’s all renovated. I appreciate that it’s clean and modern, but it just doesn’t have the same effect,” Rahman said. “I wish they had left it there.”
The walls also contain a message, “Do not write on the walls,”which Rahman feels reflects a strict, authoritarian Wellesley, warning students to “behave in the nice, new kitchen.”
Yuan chose to live in Severance Hall because it was the only hall on the west side of campus with an available two-room double come registration. When she first moved in, however, she realized that her two-room double was renovated into a single and a double, but the change was not documented in StarRez.
“My room is an oddity because it was kind of like ‘Oops, we accidentally renovated your room wrong, have the residential director’s old living room as a room,’” Yuan said.
Although she approved of the changes made to the dorm, such as adding radiator covers and moving the Wi-Fi block to the top of the door, she noted “the double was a small dingle after being renovated since that space was supposed to be space for one person.”
While some rooms have been added to the hall because of the removal of a stairway, Maheu noted that “The goal is to keep the total number of rooms in line with current capacity. Although adding rooms is not the goal of the program, we look for creative opportunities to provide program enhancement when we can.”
Additionally, Maheu confirmed that the College does not plan to reopen currently inactive residential halls, such as Dower and Homestead.