Downing students upset over renovation

Alex Glasner 21 November 2008

Downing College students have expressed anger over allegations that their college lied about the source of funds for the newly renovated ‘Howard Court.’

The Cambridge Student (TCS) has been told of the college’s claims that renovations were funded by Mr Howard himself, yet it transpired that 85% had, in fact, come from college funds.

To resolve the issues between the college authorities and students a meeting was held with Dick Taplin, the Domus Bursar on Thursday 12 November.

He told TCS that the source of the funding was made “clear in all appropriate meetings, which are all attended by JCR and MCR members,” and that some students had simply been misadvised “by someone on the JCR.”

The whole refurbishment cost £640,000 and is intended to make “just twenty five rooms” more attractive. These rooms are intended to be rented out to conference guests during the vacation, one of the major souces of the college’s income.

Of the total sum, the benefactors of the ‘Howard Theatre’ had only offered to pay for the external refurbishment works, which the Domus Bursar was about 15% of the total cost of the renovation.

College funds therefore needed to be spent “on major repairs to heating pipes”; “on ensuite bathrooms no longer provided accommodation of a suitable standard”; and “to better accommodate kosher facilities”.

One student, who wished to remain anonymous, told TCS:

“It’s a lot of money. It’s ridiculous that the ensuite bathrooms were said to be substandard when they had perfectly decent showers.”

Jack Watson, a second year at the college, told TCS:”Some students are angry that these rooms, which were nice in the first place, are being renovated and houses in which some students live in are in a very bad condition.”

He added that some students had asked for their rooms to be renovated, but were told that “College is too poor. That’s why it’s bad that this nice building has been renovated. At the meeting there was one girl who was furious and was shouting.”

The Bursar told TCS that, “Downing, like other colleges, is dependent on summer conferences to absorb overall running and maintenance costs – which would otherwise have to be met from student rents. The decision was made to bite the bullet and do a complete job now so that this accommodation would be available to students and conferences alike from October.”

He added that “undergraduates benefit equally from these improvements.”

Many students did not agree with this view and showed their anger at the meeting, named “grill the bursar”.

The meeting lasted for just over an hour, despite covering various other issues. Yet the subsequent discussions about the renovations lasted many more hours.

Downing has said that it will complete some remedial work on some of the worst student rooms, including some in which mould has been found, as compensation for the recent misunderstanding.

The Bursar emphasized the fact that other residences will be renovated “where the window of opportunity is far more flexible.

“In undertaking the work on Howard Court the decision was openly taken by the College for the long-term benefit of the College as a whole.

At the meeting he told students that the costs of the renovation will take five years to be recuperated by the gains to be made from renting out to conference guests.

“In reality, it’s such a long period over which to get financial returns that by the time the period is up, they’ll need to refurbish the rooms again,” said one student.

Alex Glasner