The University announced on Thursday its plan to begin a multi-million dollar renovation to the infrastructure of the Sharpe Refectory this summer with the goal to permanently equip it with cooling abilities in summer 2019. This decision arrives amid a sustained campaign organized by students and dining workers to introduce air conditioning in the Ratty.
The University’s Plan
The efforts to construct a cooling solution in the Ratty will be structured as a two-fold process with the University beginning to work on the first phase in June, said Barbara Chernow, executive vice president for finance and administration. This first phase includes upgrades and improvements to fixtures in the Ratty’s interior such as its electrical system and backup generator, as well as its air handling fans and controls in the attic, she added. Altogether, the phase will cost $4 million and will take place from June to December of this year.
The University secured the funding for these renovations in spring 2017, Chernow added.
The second phase of the process will focus on creating “permanent cooling solutions” for the facility, she said. It begins with a feasibility report, which is currently underway, that will assess the costs and form of cooling that will be introduced in the Ratty. “The goal is that by next summer or the fall, we would have a more permanent solution ... of permanent cooling,” she added.
An Ongoing Campaign for Ratty A/C
The University’s announcement comes after campaigning from students — led by the Student Labor Alliance — and dining workers for the installation of air conditioning in the Ratty’s kitchen to address a reported issue with high temperatures. The SLA built off previous organizing done by Summer@Brown resident advisors last summer, said Evan Lehmann ’19, a member of the SLA.
“It’s clear that (air conditioning) would solve the issue. … People who work in the Ratty have been asking for A/C over and over again,” said Sammie Chomsky ’18.5, a member of the SLA.
The other dining hall on campus, the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall, has air conditioning, said Peter Rossi, director of Dining Services.
An employee from Brown Dining Services who worked in the Ratty during the summer told The Herald that members of the Ratty’s staff had previously asked for the installation of a cooling system, but the administration was unable to accommodate their requests due to the building’s age and structure. “We’ve been struggling there for so many years,” said the employee, who requested anonymity to protect their job.
The University installed temporary cooling towers in the Ratty’s kitchens in summer 2017 to alleviate the severity of the heat, said Emma Galvin ’18.5, a member of the SLA and an organizer for the campaign. But the employee from Dining Services said that though the units “helped for a little while, … you’d have to be close to it, which you can’t (do because) … you have to move around” on the job.
“In installing the cooling towers, (the administration) did act on the issue, but it didn’t solve the problem,” Chomsky said.
During the same summer, the University also created hydration stations and air-conditioned break rooms. Employees were allowed more frequent breaks and lighter uniforms to mitigate some of the heat’s effects, Rossi said.
These temporary changes helped to reduce the kitchen’s overall temperature by seven to nine degrees — causing it to hover between 70 and 80 degrees — though some spaces, such as the grilling areas, remained warmer, Chernow said.
However, these measures were insuffient to totally relieve the effects of working in the heat, the employee said. “People ha(d) to go and sit in the side room that has A/C. That doesn’t help because … you sit for like five minutes, and then you go out again and you’re still going to be in that heat,” they said.
The employee added that they continued to feel fatigued even after leaving their shift in the kitchen. “When I go home, I don’t want to do (anything), even if my kids talk to me. I’m so tired and frustrated that I take it out on my kids. It’s not great,” they said.
Employees would use their sick days to avoid working in the highest temperatures, and female employees in the Ratty would often complete their shifts without going to the bathroom, as their pants would cling to their skin from sweat, they added.
Another employee, who also requested anonymity for job protection, confirmed these claims. She added that “the pants (that) they give us: The material is (a) cheap, polyester type. … It’ll take you forever to pull them up … (or) down because your thighs and your legs are all wet.”
Other employees have reported getting sick and feeling faint from the heat, The Herald previously reported.
But the University contests these claims. “We do not have reports or evidence of people coming to the University (and) saying that they fainted or (had) gotten sick on the job … due to heat,” said Brian Clark, director of news and editorial development.
“There weren’t people fainting left and right,” he added.
“We’re fully committed to the health and safety and working conditions for all of the employeees that we have on campus, whether we’re talking about dining staff who are in the Sharpe Refectory, or facilities staff who are outside in the summer or faculty and staff who are elsewhere on campus,” Clark said.
In the upcoming summer, the University intends to place temporary cooling systems in the Ratty, Clark said.
In addition to repeating the steps taken last summer, the University will rework the dining hall’s menu to reduce use of heat-producing machinery, Rossi said.
After hearing the University’s new plan, Chomsky said she would “call this a win” for the community campaign. But the campaign will continue to monitor the University’s implementation of the Ratty’s renovations through broad coalitions with workers and community meetings to keep the University accountable, she added.
“It’s about basic respect for people that are in our community,” Chomsky said. “The administration fails to respect that they need basic (things) like air conditioning so that they can work in an environment that’s safe. It’s about making sure that Brown is not a place that is disrespecting the dignity of the people that work there.”