Common room conversion causes commotion

by Olivia Carey / Beacon Correspondent • September 28, 2017

Unbeknownst to students who applied in the spring to live in the Piano Row residence hall, in-suite living rooms in the dorm  were recently converted into additional bedrooms—replacing common space with additional suitemates. 

Freshman Elizabeth Perkin said that when she toured Piano Row before coming to Emerson, she saw a six-person suite with a full bathroom, kitchenette, and common room. She now lives in a converted eight-person suite. Converted suites still have a full bathroom and kitchenette. 

Perkin said the conversion hinders her suite’s ability to interact. 

“I think it’s harder for us to bond because there’s not a common space that all of us fit in. We literally stand in our hallway,” Perkin said. “I also think it’s hard to live in this room because  I’m out here in the kitchen doing my homework because my roommate’s on the phone. There’s no common space.”

Associate Dean for Campus Life Erik Muurisepp said the modified living arrangement is mostly due to the Little Building renovation. 

Muurisepp said other housing options were considered in addition to the conversion of common rooms. Options included turning double bedrooms into triples or “forced triples,” converting Piano Row floor lounges, reaching out to other Boston institutions for spare housing, and renting space in hotels.

Muurisepp said housing sought the option with the least impact on the student experience. Other alternatives, like converting floor lounges, would leave students with nowhere but their suites. 

Regarding student dissatisfaction with the lack of adjustment to room and board costs, Muurisepp said students are paying no more or less than they would for any other bedroom, regardless of the changes to the common rooms. 

“Our room and board rates are by room type, not by suite type, and so students who are in a double pay [for] a double, students in a triple pay [for] a triple ... I believe it’s right on par with our practice in other buildings,” Muurisepp said. 

Freshman Natalie Daniels lives in an eight-person suite in Piano Row. She said she understands that Emerson had to find a way to house residents, but she wishes the communication between the school and its students had been better. 

“I think the problem wasn’t necessarily about the room itself; it was that they didn’t really let us know until the last minute, and it wasn’t very clear because it felt like no one knew what was really going on,” Daniels said. 

She said there have been benefits to the new housing arrangement. 

“I can’t really complain because I met more people too, so it was a positive experience,” Daniels said. 

Common room renovations and eight-person suites were mentioned at Accepted Students Day in April, according to Muurisepp, although he said it was not stressed as much as it should have been.

On July 19, students received an email signed by Muurisepp from Housing Operations detailing how first year students would be impacted.

The day before, Muurisepp posted “Update Regarding Piano Row Suite Retrofit Project” to press.emerson.edu.

Freshman Julianne Bianciella said if the school had been clearer, she would have changed her housing application. 

“I was glad I was informed. I wasn’t glad that I was placed in the situation … I would have probably put another residence hall on my application as first,” Bianciella said.

The Little Building closed in May 2017 and is scheduled to reopen fall 2019. The update is projected to create an additional 290 beds and accommodate around 1,040 residents. 

Muurisepp said once it reopens, the additional beds from the renovation will easily accommodate the housing demand for the residency requirement. The converted common rooms in Piano Row were only approved for two years, until the Little Building reopens. 

“These are temporary outfits,” Muurisepp said.