Getting clean in the CIT

Faculty frequent fabled shower facility

Tucked away in a cramped corner on the fourth floor of the Center for Information Technology is a room without any computers, wires or screens. The only modern equipment in this room is the light bulb on the ceiling. So what is the purpose of this technological void in a building entirely dedicated to technology? To the surprise – and convenience – of many, the CIT is home to a shower.

“They get used fairly regularly,” said Mark Oribello, a University media coordinator whose office is directly across the hall from the shower. “People have their own shampoo, soap and towels. It’s really quite convenient.”

Oribello said many of the faculty, staff and graduate students who work at the CIT bike in from their homes in Providence and Massachusetts and need to cool off when they arrive at work.

“It doesn’t make sense to shower and then ride in and be all sweaty,” he said.

It may be hard to imagine programmers and technicians walking through the halls of the CIT in towels, but the showers are frequently used by many of those who spend large amounts of time in the CIT.

“A bunch of faculty members use it,” Oribello said. “You can always tell because they walk around with wet hair.”

One faculty member whose relationship with the CIT’s showers extends beyond mere use is Andy van Dam, professor of computer science as well as co-founder and former chairman of the Department of Computer Science.

“I lobbied for permission with the University to build the building, so I got to help with setting up the requirements,” van Dam said of the CIT’s construction.

One of van Dam’s requests for the new building – which included large exterior windows that could open, an atrium that could receive sunlight and a Chinese restaurant – was a shower.

Though van Dam still has to leave the building for egg rolls, he succeeded in procuring a shower for the building, which he described as a perfectly reasonable request.

“I knew that many of us pulled all-nighters, and other times we would come in straight from the airport on a redeye from the West Coast or Europe,” he said. “It was just really useful to be able to take a shower.”

“It’s a very small expense in the scheme of things when you’re building a bathroom, to put in a little extra tiling and the plumbing to have a shower,” he said. “It’s hardly a luxury.”

Though van Dam said many undergraduates use the showers, no one among a group of juniors outside a CIT classroom were certain that the showers existed.

“I’ve heard about them,” said Andrew Chin ’08 when asked about the showers. “But I wasn’t sure if they were real or a joke.”

Since their installation in 1988, the showers seem to have become a legend among undergraduate students, most of whom have only heard rumors about the fourth-floor facility.

“Until this point, I had never actually met someone who had seen them,” Chin said. “What are they like?”

As van Dam suggested, the shower is hardly glamorous. Buried in a closet-like room, the lone shower stall is modest, to say the least. But for those who spend a significant amount of time in the CIT, the shower provides a refuge of cleanliness, while for others it is merely a conversation piece and, for one faculty member, it may be the next best thing to a Chinese restaurant.