Student attempts to tackle $100,000 annual cost of residence hall vandalism

Residence hall vandalism (RHV) has been a highly-debated issue on campus for many years. Whether it is a shattered front door or an exit sign on the floor of the apartments, students understand the harmful effects of RHV and recognize the difficulty it poses for Physical Plant Department (PPD) and the custodians who work to keep our living spaces clean and functional.

With nearly 2,000 students living across numerous different residential dorms on campus, it is expected that parts of the living space with break; however, many students don’t realize the quantity of RHV the school actually incurs.

Theodore Niedermayer ’15 became curious about RHV over the summer after reading over the statistics that the College released for the 2013-2014 school year. Over the summer, he spent between 20 to 30 hours taking the RHV information from myColby and compiling it into one simple Excel workbook.

Niedermayer first spent the majority of his time sorting through the College’s inefficient archive of RHV. (For example, every incident reported is only given a description but is not assigned to a larger category of damage.)

Additionally, there is currently no standardization in the archive system, so reporting common occurrences varies across the board. Cleaning up trash in the apartments is recorded as “excessive trash cleanup,” but is also “clean up of solo cup and orange band mess,” or “trash-can dumped down the stairs.”
Niedermayer went through every report from the last four years and assigned each RHV violation to one of the following categories: Building Damage, Fire Violations, Bathroom Damage, Excessive Trash, Furniture Damage, Vomit and other miscellaneous offenses.

From this categorization, he was able to analyze trends over the past four years. His discoveries validated what many students already know: the highest quantity of RHV occurs in the Alfond Apartments, The Heights, Anthony Mitchell and Schupf (AMS), and select Hillside dorms. In 2013-2014, Williams and Sturtevant had the highest quantity of RHV of the Hillside dorms; the most common violation was a broken exit sign.

Niedermayer also found specific hot spots, such as which floor in each building incurs the most damage. Not surprisingly, these rooms consisted of mostly suites that hosted open parties for students at the College.

Every school has records of their RHV, and Bowdoin College’s statistics are publicly available online. Bowdoin is similar to the College, with roughly the same number and demographic of students represented.

Housing at Bowdoin is guaranteed for first-years and sophomores, and historically, they have been able to support any upperclassmen who wish to live on campus. There is all-first-year housing and the school also has social houses, which require applications to live in. For the 2013-2014 school year, Bowdoin had a total of $19,238 of RHV on campus.

The social houses, similar to the on campus Apartments, incur most of these costs. However, 12 of the 29 residential communities had no RHV in the Fall and 11 in the Spring.

More students at Bowdoin live off campus, which is part of the reason for these lower costs. Still, the highest amount incurred by any one living area was $2,665.

Since a higher fraction of the Bowdoin student population lives off campus, it may be intuitive that the total costs for RHV on the Hill would be higher.
However, the total cost of RHV at the College is still startling. The answer: about $100,000 on average for the past four years.

Bowdoin students caused far fewer incidents of RHV than students on the Hill.
In addition to the monetary costs for clean up and replacement, in many cases trash, vomit and spills that occur on a Friday night or during the weekend will remain until Monday. This mess creates extra work for the custodians who already have full days of making sure that spaces are livable and sanitary. Many times, this requires custodians to work over time, costing the school additional money.

Niedermayer, along with Kelford Mitchell ’16, have presented their work on RHV to the administration and is working closely with Associate Director of Campus Life Kim Kenniston and Dean of Students Jim Terhune to innovate new methods to reduce the $100,000 annual cost.

Each week, Niedermayer records the RHV statistics from the weekend. The Administration is now finding the areas on campus, in real time, that are incurring high or low levels of vandalism, allowing them to implement new preventative strategies and then test the methods for a few weeks to measure if they make an impact.

The Administration is currently attempting to promote the Colby Affirmation known for its slogan, “Be a Mule, not an Ass,” as a means of curbing the damage. Niedermayer believes that a system that recognizes those who actually clean up and manage their RHV after a party might be more effective.

While in the past year SGA debated created a new policy whereby the cost of RHV was spread across campus evenly, instead of by dorm building, this strategy is not being put into place. Instead, the Admisnistration hopes to focus more on preventative measures to decrease the quantity of RHV committed.

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