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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

On-campus construction craze: A necessary growing pain

Multiple campus buildings including Eaton Hall, Blakeley Hall, 123 Packard Ave. and the former Zeta Psi house to receive much-needed repairs, but not without difficulties.

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Eaton Hall construction is pictured on Feb. 14.

When taking a stroll through the Tufts Medford/Somerville campus, it is impossible to ignore the many ongoing construction projects. The constant buzz of construction has become a familiar sound for Tufts students and staff, with multiple ongoing projects scattered about the campus. One of these buildings, located in the heart of campus, embodies Tufts’ longstanding dedication to the humanities: Eaton Hall, home of multiple departments, including classical studies and sociology. 

Opened in 1908, Eaton Hall is over a century old and is certainly due for a makeover. David Proctor, a triple-Jumbo and distinguished senior lecturer of history and classical studies, expressed his love for the building, as it served as his primary teaching location.

“I was notorious in the registrar’s office for requesting Eaton [room] 333,” Proctor said. “I actually crafted my recitations in my upper-level courses so they would be capped at just the right number to fit in Eaton [room] 333. During an average fall semester, I taught ten recitations a week in Eaton [room] 333. And in the spring semester, [I taught] five recitations and four other classes, so I was in there probably 12 times a week.”

Despite his admiration for Eaton, even Proctor could admit to the building’s state of deterioration.

Obviously Eaton needed some fixing. In the 13 years that I was there, the roof was repaired numerous times [and] ceiling tiles fell in,” Proctor said. “It was just in desperate need of repair.”

And it is receiving a repair, with a massive renovation process currently underway. The interior of Eaton is entirely gutted, with new concrete structures installed on the outside as well. According to Ruth Bennett, senior director of capital programs, the project remains on schedule and is currently set to be completed in spring 2025.

“The project is going very well,” Bennett wrote in an email to the Daily. “The interior demolition is complete and the contractor has started framing out the walls. The contractor is also digging out … the foundations for the new addition.”

However, there are still multiple semesters before Eaton will be ready to host classes. In the meantime, the Department of Classical Studies has been temporarily relocated to Lincoln Filene, which has proven to be a tight squeeze. Furthermore, professors such as Proctor have turned to lecturing in unconventional locations.

“I’ve got a bunch of classes in Braker, I’ve got a random class in Tisch [and] I’ve got a class in Olin [room] 12, so I’m kind of all over the place, Proctor said. “It’s a good thing they’re doing [repairs], but [Eaton] was a major classroom teaching space. So with Eaton offline, it does put pressure on other buildings, particularly at peak time.

One of the contributing factors to Eaton’s lengthy renovation time is the construction of a large glass atrium, similar to those of Houston Hall, Miller Hall and Sophia Gordon Hall. The glass gives the building a more modern flare in contrast to the Georgian architecture of the building. While some members of the Tufts community embrace this change, others — including Proctor — prefer Eaton’s former, more traditional appearance.

From what I’ve heard, people are really enthusiastic about it. It’s going to be a more flexible space, a more collaborative space,” Proctor said. “As someone who’s been here for over 30 years and is kind of old-fashioned, I’m not loving it myself, but my office won’t be in there. So maybe I’ll teach in there, maybe I won’t, once it’s up and running.

Unlike Eaton, multiple other campus projects are dedicated to providing undergraduate housing. In 2022, the Daily found that Tufts’ undergraduate enrollment rates have been consistently increasing in the post-COVID-19 era. In this year’s application cycle, more than 34,400 students applied to Tufts’ Class of 2028, marking a 1% increase from last year. However, Angy Sosa, the associate director for residential operations, stated that this increase will not result in higher undergraduate enrollment numbers, which would require the construction of more housing.

The number of applications should not be confused with the number of admitted or enrolled students, Sosa wrote in an email to the Daily. “The university does not anticipate growing undergraduate enrollment beyond its current levels.

In 2022, Tufts University built three new residential facilities for the influx of students in the Class of 2026: 91, 93 and 95 Professors Row, also known as The Court at Professors Row. However, according to Sosa, these dormitories are not permanent editions to the Tufts Medford/Somerville campus.

Courts were installed as a temporary measure that will stay in place for the foreseeable future while permanent additions are finalized, Sosa wrote.

One of these permanent additions is the renovation of Blakeley Hall, the 1926 Georgian-style dormitory located behind Houston Hall. Blakeley Hall was shut down on Sept. 24, 2022, after the handful of undergraduate students living there were permanently moved into 91 Professors Row. Currently, the building is fenced off and is tentatively scheduled to reopen in the fall 2025 semester with over 120 new beds.

We have done interior demolition to understand the structure of the building, but the actual construction will not start until the spring, Bennett wrote.

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Courtesy Ruth Bennett

A rendering of the future Blakeley Hall.

Another exciting addition for undergraduates is 80 Professors Row, the former Zeta Psi house that has sat abandoned since the fraternity was disbanded by the university in 2021. In 2023, Rocco DiRico, executive director of government and community relations at Tufts, announced the university’s intentions to purchase the building. DiRico told the Daily that Tufts has successfully purchased the building.

Tufts University has purchased 80 Professors Row in Somerville. Our intention is to use that site for undergraduate housing, DiRico wrote. “Once we finalize a plan for the property, we will apply for permits and meet with all the necessary city boards to seek approval for the project.”

According to the Middlesex South Registry of Deeds, Tufts purchased the 150-year-old building for $2.4 million. This means that future undergraduate students will have a plethora of new options when choosing where they want to live on campus. The new buildings will bring a shake-up for which grades of students can expect to live where on campus.

We would likely adjust the current breakdown of building designations among other class years,” Sosa wrote. “We will communicate that at the appropriate time to the student community.”

Additional projects include Bacon Hall (which started construction in December 2023), Halligan Hall (set to be finished in late spring 2024) and 123 Packard Ave., which is anticipated to be completed in the fall 2024 semester. 123 Packard Ave. will be the new on-campus option for graduate students in The Fletcher School.

While it is an undeniably positive addition to the Tufts campus, the Packard Avenue construction has proven to be an inconvenience for some, especially for those living next door in the Russian/Slavic and Central Asian Culture House.

“Last semester, they [tended] to do some of the noisiest things in the morning,” Joanne Fan, a junior living in the house, said. “The drilling would just wake me up a lot. I would have to put on my noise canceling headphones, [but] they still didn’t block out the noise. So I just couldn’t sleep.”

Despite the Tufts motto referencing illumination, students often feel left in the dark regarding construction projects.

Moving into the Russian house, I had no idea that there was going to be construction,” Fan said. “I don’t think they have an obligation to … tell students, because I [was] going to live [in the house] regardless. But I think letting us know … [would] help in terms of [knowing] what to expect.”

When considering potential solutions to the inconvenience, Fan suggested that the construction team notify neighboring students of the time windows in which they plan on working.

“We are right next door, closer than any other student house. So it’d be nice to have them tell us, Fan said. “It [would make] our lives easier, so I think that could be a good step.”

Despite the growing pains of the construction process, many still remain enthusiastic about the future of Tufts, as the projects promise to bring forth a fresh new era to campus.

I am really excited about many of the projects happening on our Medford/Somerville campus, DiRico wrote. “Housing more students on campus will help alleviate housing pressures off campus in Medford and Somerville … [and] these renovations will make these buildings more energy efficient, sustainable and accessible.”