Meditation spaces, kitchens, music practice rooms with soundproof walls and personal bathrooms are some of the additions that were a part of the East Halls renovations that began in spring 2016.
What were not on the list, however, were hand dryers in every bathroom.
Unlike the community bathrooms found in traditional residential halls, every floor in the new buildings of East — excluding the ground floor — is equipped with a cluster of four to six bathrooms, and among them, one does not include a shower. This half-bathroom is the only bathroom with a hand dryer installed.
“It seems to me like there are only hand dryers in some of the bathrooms, but it doesn’t make sense to me why you would have dryers in one bathroom and not in the other,” Sophia Patronelli (freshman - psychology) said.
According to Conal Carr, director of housing operations for University Park, the design was implemented to cut costs and reduce any negative environmental impacts.
“What we’re doing is providing an option for students that if they don’t have their towel and want to wash their hands and dry it right there, we provide that,” Carr said. “But, there’s only one per cluster as opposed to five or six or seven. I’ve heard students asking for hand towels and hand dryers. But, financially, to put them all in, it’s 12 dryers per floor. All that energy you’re using, all that cost, all those paper towels create a lot more waste.”
Penn State’s proposed operating budget for the period of 2018-2019 reports that a total of $24.9 million was budgeted to “address facility and maintenance needs,” of which $3.8 million was allotted to the “the maintenance and operation of new or newly remodeled facilities scheduled to come on line in 2018-19.” The budget also states that there was a $16,000 change in expenses for capital improvement from the last period to the current one.
However, students like Sarah Mitchell find the situation confusing.
“There is only one dryer and it’s often in a bathroom that I don’t use,” Mitchell (freshman - architecture) said. “So, I have to bring in a towel because it’s weird to walk out with soaking, wet hands. Sometimes I just walk into my room and then dry off, which is still an inconvenience.”
Carr noted that until the year after the outbreak of swine flu in 2009, there were no hand dryers or paper towels in any of the residential halls.
“Originally, we never used to provide any hand dryers or paper towels in any of the bathrooms on the student floors. The ones on the ground floor, which is for your guests, always had hand dryers or paper towels, back in the day. So, the idea was, if you lived on the floors, you would bring your towel to shower or brush teeth or whatnot,” Carr said.
Earlier, in 2015, South Halls were renovated similarly to East. Personal, gender-neutral bathrooms were designed and a public space with sinks was installed for every cluster of five bathrooms. The space came equipped with one hand dryer. Carr states that the administration was concerned with the noise levels of the hand dryers.
“The problem with [hand dryers in a public space], of course, was the noise. It was in the open. Students who lived near that space heard the noise,” Carr said.
Carr also said that although his department did not receive many complaints from the students in the renovated halls in South regarding this problem, it did notice the signs in the hallways asking students not to operate the hand dryers during the quiet hours.
Today, the solution for the students in East, Carr suggests, is to bring their own hand or bath towels when going to the bathroom.
“As you’ve heard from the students, it still isn’t working because other people want to use the restroom at the same time,” Carr said. “So, someone asked if we could put hand dryers in all of them. But, financially and environmentally, it’s just not a good call.”
Instead, paper towel dispensers have been installed near the public sink in Stuart Hall. Carr said that although this causes environmental waste, it does not amount to the same as having five paper towel dispensers or hand dryers.
According to Susan Bedsworth, the marketing and communications specialist for the Office of Physical Plant, the absence of hand dryers is also an enforcement of the sustainability campaign undertaken by the university.
“It’s important to recognize sustainability is an important focus for the university and all of its units. Having students bring a hand towel with them falls in line with some of the other sustainability-focused initiatives we have on campus and in our community,” Bedsworth said via email. “We are always trying to find ways to lower the amount of waste generated and lower our energy usage.”
On the other hand, students living in these renovated halls do not seem to be in on the plan.
“I can’t say that I was informed, because I haven’t been,” Patronelli said. “I honestly don’t know why they did it in the first place. Everybody’s going to be washing their hands, everyone’s going to have wet hands.”
According to Carr, the new situation was communicated to students by Residence Life staff through house meetings as well as the Stall Stories advertising campaign, but the information could have been lost in the arrival process.
“They want to be more environmentally friendly, but they advocate so much about staying clean, washing your hands and not getting others sick,” Mitchell said. “Then, they say they’re not going to give you a way to dry your hands, therefore, we’re going to make you think about whether or not you want to wash your hands. I just think they’re in the wrong for that move.”
Carr believes the project has been “very well received” by students.
“I think it makes sense and I think students can appreciate what we’re trying to do to provide the service,” Carr said. “But, ultimately, I think it would be wonderful if they could just throw a towel over their shoulder and go down and use that.”