When the six residents of Walsh 1002 returned for their third year this past August, they discovered the apartment’s kitchen — a narrow pocket of space tucked between the living room and the apartment’s three bedrooms and two bathrooms — had been completely refurbished.
Rid of dilapidated off-white cabinets and dated appliances, the space is now unrecognizable with marble countertops, pristine cabinets and a vibrant backsplash.
For the 12th floor residents, what seemed like a pleasant surprise was actually the result of a plan by the Office of Residential Life to upgrade kitchens in the largest residential hall on campus this summer that has gone unfinished.
“I had no idea we were one of the only residents in Walsh with new kitchens,” said John Craig, FCRH ’16, a resident of 1002. “I wouldn’t normally expect for them to make changes in some and not in others.”
His suitemate, John Whalen, FCRH ’16, was just as impressed. “I thought it looked great,” he said while peering into the radiant room from a maroon sofa in the apartment’s communal space.
The plan to remodel many of the kitchens, however, was cut short during the summer due to limited resources and time.
According to John Puglisi, associate vice president of facilities management, 14 kitchens have been redone in Walsh Hall this year.
The move has turned a select group of typically skeptical students into grateful residents now equipped with state-of-the-art appliances.
It has also made existing skeptics even more frustrated, leaving them questioning why some rooms were passed over for upgrades.
Mitch Feehley, GSB ’16, is a resident of Walsh Hall and, along with his five suitemates, he has begun to feel the negative effects of being left behind in the upgrade.
“New kitchen, old kitchen: they don’t even compare,” said Feehley. “Cooking in a kitchen with outdated and barely-working appliances is a challenge.”
“There are years of caked-on dirt around and underneath the appliances, which presents a health/food safety risk, too,” he added. “The cabinets are falling apart and are decrepit. With the meal plan as an additional option, not standard like in underclassmen dorms, this kitchen doesn’t meet my needs to prepare food well and safely.”
According to Edward Pena, the assistant director of housing operations for Residential Life, the upgrades arrived at a time when utilities were beginning to wear and the building itself needed some new additions to remain attractive for students living on campus.
“We did it because of some things [Residential Life] has heard about it in the past,” he said. “Appliances were outdated and some utilities had turnover time of five years”
The upgrades, said Pena, were made to maintain student safety and to ensure that Fordham’s facilities were as modern as possible.
The particular placement of new kitchens, he added, were left to the mercy of a variety of factors the department had to face in June once its students had left for the summer.
“They were based on observations of those spaces,” Pena said, adding that if rooms were beyond repair, the kitchen would be replaced because it would be more economical to do so.
“Also, depending on the particular floor and room location, plumbing could determine whether a kitchen was replaced,” he said.
Some students, like those in Walsh, thought that it would be helpful to have had information regarding the updates during the room selection process.
But, according to Pena, that would be logistically impossible.
“It was a decision made over the summer,” he said, adding that Residential Life does not plan on disturbing students to assess damage during the academic year, but waits for the building to be free of inhabitants to conduct its own inspections. “The number one thing,” he said, “is understanding that room selection is stressful and be transparent.”
The move underscores the finicky relationships students have with residence hall facilities, especially kitchens.
Typically, students moving into Walsh look forward to making use of their private kitchens, an amenity not found in any of the underclassman residence halls on campus.
The privilege of upperclassmen, however, can often sour if students discover their new kitchen is in poor shape.
“It’s a bit harder of an adjustment in cooking,” said Alexis Jimenez, FCRH ’16, another resident of the building. “Things tend to cook differently due to the older appliances and you need to keep an eye on your food more.”
Stephanie Espejo, GSB ’16, sees the kitchen as one of the few aspects of Walsh apartments that keep them from fulfilling a modern aesthetic some other buildings have been designed to emulate, such as the Salice Conley and Campbell Halls, where senior students primarily live.
“I don’t think they’re too bad but they’re not great either,” she said. “They’re the one room that keeps the apartment looking old, especially after seeing that some apartments come with new kitchens—which is probably why the old ones bothers me more.”
In years past however, upgraded appliances — which have included electric stoves and large refrigerators — have been warmly welcomed by most students. For the most part, the reviews are mixed.
“Our kitchen works just as well as the new ones, which is the only thing that really matters,” said Elena Meuse, FCRH ’16. “This is our dorm, not our permanent residence.”
“I’m not too concerned about how aesthetically pleasing it is,” she added.
Sam Banellis, FCRH ’16, is also a resident of the building.
“I don’t really mind not having a new kitchen, because it’s not like I’m the only one without a remodeled kitchen,” she said. “The old ones are still functional and the only difference seems to be appearance. It seems like most of the kitchens aren’t remodeled yet.”
As for ongoing upgrades during the academic year, Pena said the process leads to more work and disturbance than it is worth.
“We did some during last year, between six and seven, and we realized the disruption was just too much,” he said. “The timeline for turnover of materials can be days or weeks, and we did not want to do that to students this year because students need them.”
Though he does not plan on replacing any kitchens anytime soon, Pena added that it is most likely that all of the kitchens will be upgraded in time for next fall, when students of the Class of 2017 move into the building.
Joseph Vitale is the Managing Editor for The Fordham Ram.