Photo: Jake Kivanc

The horrors of Pitman Hall

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By Jake Kivanc

Uncomfortable living conditions, questionable policies and possible bylaw violations have those living in Pitman Hall asking whether the money they paid to stay in the building was worth the stress.

Consisting of 565 rooms and housing upwards of 550 students, Pitman Hall is Ryerson’s second-oldest residence building and includes one of the school’s three cafeterias.

It is also a place that some students feel dissatisfied living in.

“I paid a lot for my room,” said Jack Hopkins, a first-year journalism student living in the building. “It’s really irritating when stuff doesn’t work. My first choice was O’Keefe for the same thing I have now. It was thousands of dollars cheaper.”

Hopkins, 18, lives in one of Pitman’s double rooms — a shared living space with two beds in close vicinity and a small kitchen, much like the typical layout of most dorms.

Like Pitman’s doubles, O’Keefe House rooms are shared, with both double and triple occupancy rooms available. When applying to stay in residence, Hopkins labelled his first choice as O’Keefe House due to the cheaper price of roughly $5,000 for an eight-month stay, as opposed to the equivalent at Pitman for nearly twice that, at $9,600.

When finding out he was placed in Pitman Hall, Hopkins said that he assumed the higher cost would mean an improvement in quality, but was disappointed to find that the rooms and overall maintenance of the building were “terrible.”

“The washrooms are always dirty and stuff takes forever to get fixed. It’s pretty ridiculous if you ask me,” Hopkins said.

While issues within students’ rooms were resolved quickly via electronic maintenance requests, problems outside the actual living areas were not — over a three-month investigation, The Eyeopener found maintenance issues that were left unattended for weeks at a time, with examples including feces-covered, clogged bathroom stalls, malfunctioning washing machines and mouldy shower curtains.

The Eyeopener also discovered water temperatures in the community showers that rose as high as 56 degrees celsius, seven degrees higher than the legal limit of 49 degrees as set out in the Building Code Act.

Ian Crookshank, director of housing and residence life at Student Housing Services (SHS), said that despite occasional errors, they try to address all problems quickly.

“We tend to endeavour to fix a problem as quickly as possible,” he said. “We all want to run a perfect program and a perfect system, but there are some times when things can slip through.”

According to Crookshank, all maintenance and cleaning is contracted out to Ainsworth Inc. and Acura Maintenance respectively, both of whom make regular sweeps of the building for issues.

Crooshank did note, however, that much of the responsibility is on students and staff to report problems through the maintenance system.

Another issue residents of the building must contend with is the lockout policy that SHS has in place. Since all rooms in Pitman are secured with a keycard system that opens when a person inserts the card and locks automatically when the door is closed, lockouts are as simple as forgetting the card in one’s room and having the door shut. This feature is not present in the International Living Learning Centre (ILLC), which requires students to lock their doors from the outside.

Every time a student is locked out, a charge is incurred, with the first one being free and steadily increasing every time afterwards, starting at $5 and rising to $50 by the sixth lockout. A staff member then must unlock the room manually.

Chandler Borland, a second-year business management student who has been locked out multiple times, said he sees the policy as “a subtle form of extortion.”

“I disagree with the amounts they charge students each time we lock ourselves out,” he said. “I personally believe it should be a flat rate and not incremental.”

Borland, describing a time he was particularly frustrated at being locked out, said that the wait is unreasonable for the price.

“I don’t remember exactly where I was going, but I was either really late for a class or had plans to meet someone,” he said. “The frustrating part was having to stand around for almost 20 minutes until someone arrived to assist me.”

Crookshank said that the lockout policy acts as both a form of compensation for “time spent” by maintenance and a type of punishment. “It’s a bit punitive,” he said. “It is to look toward the standpoint of educating the students to take their keys with them.”

Crookshank also noted that a percentage of the funds extracted from lockouts — totalling $6,830 from 1,140 lockouts this year alone — is going toward a future replacement of the building’s locks, although no time frame was provided.

Similarly, the mandatory land-line service supplied to students in Pitman Hall and ILLC costs each resident $156 and nets a total of $127,452. The Eyeopener discovered last week that despite these charges, students are using their landlines very little.

On top of the living issues, disgruntled meal plan-holders are not uncommon. Students like Morgan Bocknek, who has celiac disease and is lactose intolerant, said that the policy of being forced into a minimum $2,500 meal plan has made life difficult.

“They have the pre-made food, but sometimes there’s no gluten-free options,” she said. “Often times, gluten-free options are dairy and I can’t have that.”

Although not in direct control of meal plan policy, Crookshank said the reason for not allowing students to opt out is mainly based on the inconvenience that cooking has made for students in the past and that students who have any issues with existing policy should speak up.

“The more that I hear from students, the better,” he said. “I think some times, the struggle is that year over year, people make the assumption that things have always been this way and things are never going to change.”

A petition to have OneCard policy changed in order to allow students to opt-out of mandatory meal plans was introduced by students last month and has so far seen 290 of the 500-signature goal filled.

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