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Students Raise Concerns over Costs at Town Hall

150 Basement Suffolk Town Hall

Seated left to right: Meg Donnelly, Lynn Thach, Bob Cirame, Chief Coletta, James Wallace, Brendan Murphy, Emma Feathers.

Suffolk University welcomed both positive and negative student feedback at the SU Town Hall Forum at 150 Tremont on Wednesday evening. The event, organized by the Student Government Association and the Housing and Facilities Committee, included representatives from SUPD, Residence Life, Sodexo, and Housing and Facilities.


Meg Donnelly, chair of the Housing and Facilities Committee associated with SGA, introduced the event as an opportunity for students to ask questions and share thoughts about the Suffolk community.


Available to answer questions and address concerns were Lynn Thach, Resident Director at 10 West and Modern Theatre; Bob Cirame, Sodexo General Manager; Gerard “Chip” Coletta, SUPD Chief; James Wallace, Director of Facilities Operations; Brendan Murphy, Vice President of the Residence Hall Association (RHA); and Emma Feathers, National Communications Coordinator for RHA.


Although only about fifteen students attended, important discussions were held, primarily regarding campus maintenance and safety.


James Wallace outlined the plans surrounding Suffolk’s new 20 Somerset building in response to a student’s inquiry. Construction on 20 Somerset should be completed by late spring; when the building opens next fall, Sawyer and 20 Somerset will be Suffolk’s two main academic buildings.


Most of Archer and Donahue will be closed, as the majority of classrooms and science labs will be relocated to the new building. These buildings won’t be closed entirely, however, as Suffolk does not wish to lose assets such as the black box theatre in Donahue.


The Donahue café and the Hub will also be moved to 20 Somerset. Still, it will be a brand new building, including gender neutral bathrooms to maintain Suffolk’s diverse reputation.


Along with this, Bob Cirame added that the new building’s café will include stations for brick oven pizza, pasta, Asian food, grilled food, and grab-and-go salad. In front of 20 Somerset, in the outdoor quad area, there will be a small Einstein Bros Bagels for students to get breakfast on the way to class or a snack in the evening.


This same quad area is expected to help with the issue of smokers standing in the doorways of the Sawyer building. The law states you can smoke in any public area – including sidewalks – as long as the smoke doesn’t enter the building or disrupt people’s direct path into the building. While the crowd of students smoking can be an inconvenience, Chief Coletta said SUPD has been working with SGA on the issue. One hope is that the quad’s completion in the spring will pull smokers away from the building’s entrance.


As for the Sawyer building itself, James Wallace recounted a number of updates made to the building this past summer, including renovations on bathrooms and a stairwell, upgrades to the elevators, and the conversion of two rooms into computer labs to adjust for the loss of labs in the Fenton building sale.


Admitting the “upgrades” to the elevators haven’t been functioning ideally, Wallace noted that they consulted an engineer before making the decision to switch to the new system. The end result was that they felt the new elevators would be slightly more efficient, especially if some students took two or three flights of stairs to avoid overcrowding the elevators. The elevator cabs will be upgraded esthetically in the future, but they are unable to increase the size of the cabs.


Wallace also noted that he hopes to upgrade Sawyer’s lobby – adding with a laugh that he feels it currently resembles a locker room. However, “Money always gets in the way,” he said, stating facilities spent roughly $2 million on the Sawyer updates completed last summer.


Regarding safety, one student raised a concern about 150 Tremont’s proximity to what seems to be increased crime this semester. Chief Coletta responded that crime is statistically down in that specific area, but he is aware they’ve sent out four or five alerts recently.


“We are an urban campus. We’re in an urban area, and there is crime,” he said.


One student inquired as to why the Suffolk community was not alerted when the McDonald’s on Tremont Street was robbed at gunpoint. According to the Clery Act, federal law requires universities to send out notice when a crime nearby poses threat to the campus’s community members.


Chief Coletta first noted that this incident was very similar to an event that occurred about a month ago, when the same McDonald’s was robbed. In the previous incident, students were alerted because the perpetrators were at large. In this recent incident, SUPD received news of the robbery at 12:20 am and were preparing to send out an alert when the Boston Police caught the offenders. Since there was no longer an immediate threat to the Suffolk community, SUPD decided not to send an alert.


Continuing on this serious theme, a student asked about Suffolk’s policy regarding an active shooter situation.


“We rely on a response from the Boston Police Department,” said Chief Coletta.


Since SUPD is not armed, they cannot work alone. Their protocol is that as soon as Boston Police officers respond, they enter the building and neutralize the threat. Prior to this, SUPD can use their familiarity with the Suffolk campus to aid in directing students to safety and the Boston Police to the threat. SUPD does planning with Boston Police in preparation for such a situation.


SUPD officers have a baton and maze, but they do not carry deadly force equipment. Chief Coletta said there is “continuing and increased discussion” about SUPD being armed in the future, but taking this route would require very extensive training. If they would be armed, only sworn police officers in SUPD would carry deadly force equipment.


Continuing with security, one student asked why Suffolk students are required to sign in other members of the Suffolk community if their friend doesn’t live in their dorm.


“The ultimate goal is security – plain and simple,” said Chief Coletta.


Each student’s Ram Card is registered to grant or deny access to each building. The technology and security has been upgraded since last year – students now have to swipe into the dorm buildings, and then again at the security desk. This extra step was added so security could match the student to the photo that appears when they swipe the card.


Chief Coletta said Suffolk is unique in this level of security. He feels it is more effective, as the second swipe at the security desk prevents people from simply slipping in directly after one student swipes their card.


“I think it’s a selling point for the university,” said Coletta, although he admitted the system is not completely foolproof.


Lynn Thach supported Chief Coletta’s opinions regarding the system of signing students. Due to our location in downtown Boston, she feels it’s more serious to regulate who is in the building. From the residential perspective, the office needs to hold residents responsible for the actions of their guests, so they need to know who is checked in by whom.


Along with this discussion of swipe cards, one student asked if students could get cards that tap into the buildings, like the Suffolk staff cards. Chief Coletta said they have looked into utilizing proximity cards or technology that would allow you to use your smartphone to enter a building, but the technology is expensive. Proximity cards cost $6 per card, but the current swipe cards cost less than a dollar each. This amount can add up when Suffolk goes through 10,000 cards per year.


Moving onto dining hall discussions, a few students felt that Suffolk’s default meal plan – plan C, with $2506 per year – is an inefficient amount of money. On this plan, students are expected to spend $12.50 per day. Some students are nearly out of meal plan money, while some have hundreds more remaining than their budget requires. One student felt he should not be required to have a meal plan with Suffolk.


Bob Cirame said that while he personally agrees, Suffolk University has to protect itself.


“It’s Suffolk’s responsibility that you are getting a wholesome meal every day,” he said, adding that Suffolk’s meal plan is the most “transparent” type of meal plan, as you see exactly how much you’re spending, and what it’s being spent on.


As for the Residence Hall Association, the representatives from RHA announced their upcoming programs. During finals, the RHA will organize a relaxation event in each residence hall. Each event will include free massages and stations such as cookie decorating, potting your own plant, and a tea bar. They’ll also have a midnight breakfast for all those late-night studiers.


On a slightly more sentimental note, one student asked each of the adult representatives at the forum why they do the job they have. Each representative shared a little about their background and why they’re happy with their jobs at Suffolk.


Lynn Tach first got involved with residence life as a graduate student at Michigan State University.


“At the end of the day, knowing I’m able to support students with their education – but also with their personal well-being – is incredibly rewarding for me,” she said.


Bob Cirame started as a student worker for Sodexo at Framingham State University, where he was majoring in elementary education.


“Here I am, twenty-five years later,” he said, recounting how he was offered a job with Sodexo after graduation that would pay higher than education. From there, he’s moved up to being a general manager at Suffolk, where he likes seeing the students grow through this important part of their lives.


Chief Coletta described himself as a “cop at heart.” He entered the Police Academy in 1981, worked in the State Police Department, went into law for a period of time, and then took a job as an investigative officer at Stonehill College. Since then, he’s loved working in campus security.


James Wallace originally taught secondary education in an alternative school, where trouble students that had been expelled from other schools came to learn. After working there for some time, he eventually went back to UMass and had his first experience working in residence life. When looking for a job in Boston, Wallace searched for residence or facilities opportunities. He said he enjoys working in facilities because “no day’s ever the same. I’m not stuck in the office.”


The forum closed with Donnelly inviting students to come and share more questions and opinions at the SGA meetings held each Thursday from 1-2 pm in Donahue 311.

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