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Construction noise creates early birds

At 7 a.m. one day in the last week of February, freshmen living on the east side of Littlefield Hall groggily dragged their blankets anxd pillows into the lounge on the other side of the building, trying to ignore the deafening roar of jackhammers that came bursting through their windows.

The migration was, in the words of Littlefield Residential Counselor Molly Jacobson '10, a "mass exodus." Those who got there first made their beds on the couches and stuffed their heads under pillows to muffle the noise. But the couches quickly filled up, and other Littlefield residents had no choice but to start their days a few hours earlier than usual.

Some students headed to the showers. Others paced up and down the hallways, occasionally yelling insults at the construction workers outside the window. Jacobson recalled one student showing up at her door wearing only pajama bottoms and holding a plastic knife in each hand. "I'm going down there and you can't stop me," he told her.

Construction projects next to Littlefield and Minden halls have turned some students into early risers against their wills. Littlefield residents are hearing the renovation and restoration of Gardner House, which accommodates visiting dignitaries and guests of President Ruth Simmons, and Minden residents are waking up to the melodies of renovations to visiting scholar housing on Waterman Street. The jackhammers and beeping trucks have become effective alarm clocks for students - except that they go off at 7 a.m., hours before many students normally rise.

The Office of Residential Life tries to be "proactive" in making sure construction projects disrupt students as little as possible, said Richard Bova, senior associate dean for residential life. Whenever possible, ResLife schedules construction projects to be during summer and winter breaks, when few students are on campus. But projects outside of ResLife occur year-round, and some residential projects cannot be completed in just a few months, Bova said.

When construction does occur during the academic year, ResLife works with managers of residential projects to ensure that noisy work like jackhammering does not begin before 8 a.m. But sometimes new workers, who are less familiar with the rules, come on site, Bova said.

This was part of the problem with the early jackhammering next to Littlefield, said Thomas Forsberg, associate director of housing and residential life.

"We fixed that problem," Forsberg said. "But instead, they started doing other work in the morning that was also loud. One of the challenges is getting everybody to understand a model, not just specifics."

Construction sites often receive deliveries before 8 a.m., and the unloading of trucks and beeping of trucks backing up can be loud. But these deliveries can't be postponed, because city streets are narrow and it's easiest for trucks to get through before parked cars fill the roads, Forsberg said.

The inconvenience to students is "simply unintentional," Forsberg added, as construction workers sometimes forget students can be affected by projects not directly inside dorms. In 2004, when an exercise facility was added to to Emery Hall, workers had to drill holes in the ceiling to install TVs. They didn't realize students were sleeping right above them, Forsberg said.

Ultimately, Bova said, it comes down to the nature of the schedules of college students, who often operate on different hours than working adults do.

"As much as we try to mitigate noise, there will still be problems for students who don't wake up at eight," Bova said.

Forsberg added that construction workers have a fixed schedule. "You would be hard-pressed to find a contractor who starts work at 9 a.m. or 9:30 a.m.," he said.

Still, students said the noise is frustrating and interferes with studying and social plans.

Davy Perez '10, who lives on the third floor of Minden, had several friends from Texas staying with him last week, and they all woke up to jackhammering at 7 a.m. on Thursday morning. Trying to catch up on their sleep, Perez and his friends took a nap in the afternoon, and ended up missing their train to Boston.

Perez said he and his friends were "really pissed off," but he added that he doesn't mind the construction if it's "fixing a problem that exists."

Julia Beamesderfer '09 lived in Minden last semester and said she used to wake up to jackhammering at 8 a.m. a few days each week.

"I'm sympathetic to the fact that they need to start early," said Beamesderfer, who moved to Hegeman Hall this semester when her suitemates went abroad. "But maybe they could hold off on the jackhammers until at least 9 or 10."

In Littlefield, residents were more upset.

Mike Johnson '11 said he woke up to jackhammers at 7 a.m. every day for a week and a half. Though he has class at 9 a.m., Johnson said he lost a "pretty crucial" hour of sleep.

Littlefielders also put up with construction noise last semester when workers were finishing renovations on Wilson Hall, Johnson said.

"That was affecting the other side of the dorm," he said. "They've got us at all angles."

But Littlefield residents were more proactive in voicing their concerns this semester, possibly because the noise woke students on the day of the CHEM 0350: "Organic Chemistry" exam. One student called the Department of Facilities Management every morning to complain about the noise, Johnson said. Jacobson, the RC, called Facilities when the noise first became a problem, but could not reach administrators because of the early hour.

"I felt like marching over to the Office of Student Life and dragging a dean over and saying, 'Listen, could you sleep through this?'" she said.

Instead, she exchanged several e-mails with Forsberg, who said he would ask the project managers to hold off on the jackhammering until 8 a.m.

"I was satisfied that the same day, the administration explained what was going on," Jacobson said. "But there were still 64 students who lost sleep and study time. We would have appreciated more sympathy."

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