Campus, News

CSULB College of the Arts sees long-awaited facility renovations

Falling ceiling tiles, moldy restrooms, leaks, uncontrolled indoor temperatures: these are a few items on the laundry list of repairs that art students are requesting for the Fine Arts 4 building. After years of student and faculty complaints regarding the old structure, students may start to see a change.

Art students Nikki Vecchio and Holly Furnish have been organizing and mobilizing fellow art students under the Facebook group Artists United since fall 2016. On their Facebook page, students document building damage through photos, anecdotes and videos. One student even posted a photo of an art piece, titled “Guillotine,” in which half a ceiling tile serves as the deadly blade.

“On multiple occasions, I have witnessed tiles fly within inches of someone’s head, and we have had more than one case in which technology in the FA4 computer lab was damaged by tiles falling,” Vecchio, a senior in the animation program said in an email.

Vecchio says that lack of efficient air conditioning is equally as dangerous.

“Students have fainted in their classes from heat exhaustion and on numerous occasions classes have been canceled due to the extreme heat,” Vecchio said. “In the FA4 Illustration and Animation computer lab, it has reached temperatures over 98 degrees. Whenever the inside temperature climbs above 90 degrees in the lab, we have to make everyone leave and shut down all of the computers, to avoid the risk of them crashing, overheating or frying. This greatly interferes with students’ ability to complete their work and limits their access to the amazing resources the school provides.”

According to Furnish, the Fine Arts buildings were last renovated between 2000-2004, but, since FA4 was skipped during that round of renovations, it hasn’t been updated since it was built in the ‘50s.

“Art students have been neglected for too long,” Furnish said. “Our building is in need of a refresher.”

Students have voiced their complaints since at least 2014, when a ceiling tile narrowly missed a graphic design student in a second-floor classroom in FA4. Then-co-Senator of the Arts Alexander Mohtashem tried to bring poor ventilation, exposed computer wires, lack of air conditioning and other concerns to university officials’ attention. He was told that there were insufficient funds to address the issues at the time. According to a 2014 article by the Daily 49er, a grant that Hedy Lee, another ASI senator, tried to obtain to fix problems was also denied by the Board of Trustees.

In October 2016, and with less than 24 hours to prepare, Furnish and Vecchio brought together more than a dozen art students to the first Physical Planning and Facilities Management forum, where they aired their grievances while holding ceiling tiles in their hands.   

“The first forum was mainly to shock the system,” Vecchio said. “[We wanted] to make PPFM aware that students of the arts would no longer sit idly by while our facilities rotted around us.”

Current co-Senator of the Arts Sofia Musman has been working closely with Artists United since the first forum.

“I really like working with Artists United,” Musman said. “It is a lot easier to reach out to students when they are organized in a group; it creates an easier way to communicate with students.”

She was first alerted to the FA4 issues at last semester’s forum. Artists United got in touch with the College of the Arts Student Council, who then contacted her.

“I didn’t know the situation of that building was so bad,” Musman said. “I tried handling the situation by bringing all the complaints to the COTA Dean [Cyrus Parker-Jeannette]. The ceiling tiles in FA4 had been an issue for a long time, but always ignored, so I was glad to see that a group of students got together and decided to bring that problem out to the public.”

Musman organized a College of the Arts forum on Feb. 21, and according to Vecchio, this meeting had better lines of communication and garnered more transparent, specific results.

Less than two weeks after last month’s forum, portable air conditioning units were installed in nearly every room on the third floor of FA4.

However, Luwena Wou, a senior art student at CSULB, says that while the portable AC’s are an improvement, they don’t circulate the air efficiently, particularly in the L-shaped computer lab.

“I overheard the facilities people talking about the circulation system in our lab and they said we have vents on two different systems,” Wou said. “Possibly just to deal with the strange shape of the lab. They also took a while to set up the ACs … they did bring them in, but we had to set it up ourselves for a day until they came in and properly set it up.”

Still, Artists United feedback to the new portable ACs was mostly positive and hopeful.

“[Since the forum] we have also seen a greater presence of PPFM staff in our buildings, investigating vents and ducts for future plans to install central AC,” Vecchio said. “PPFM has informed us that they plan to bring AC to every art building on campus within the next five years.”

On March 3, school officials visited the FA4 building. Rooms were mapped out and color coded according to ceiling type in an effort to find solutions to fit each room’s unique structures. The group, which included interim Academic Facilities Specialist Colleen Ryan, Manager of Campus Planning and Sustainability Michael Gardner, Director of the School of Art Karen Kleinfelder, Head of Animation Aubry Mintz, Musman and others, came up with suggestions for improvements.

Among the ideas suggested were removing all tiles and plastering over the ceilings or removing the dropped ceilings and leaving the vents and ducts exposed in a style similar to the lofted ceilings in FA1 and FA2. Several rooms will be designated so that the acoustics can be tested.

According to Gardner, three sample rooms, chosen by faculty and a facilities coordinator, will be set up in the following month to have their tiles removed, removal methods analyzed and removal time estimated. PPFM will also look for alternate material to use for the ceilings.

“We are committed to removing all of the 12 inch by 12 inch ceiling tiles in FA4,” Gardner said. “All of the work will be done at night, so as not to disrupt the majority of classes. We plan to remove all the ceiling tiles in the building in the next year.”  

The computer lab in FA4 305 may also be moved down the hall to FA4 309, which currently houses faculty offices and a slide storage room. The room has air conditioning and will provide more space for equipment; the change is planned to take place this summer.

“I think arts often get underfunded because they receive less attention,” Musman said. “The arts program in CSULB receives a lot of donations for scholarships and internships, but it’s not a common thing for people of the community to donate money for facilities. This type of issue should be funded by the state, not by private donations.”

PPFM told Musman it would cost an estimated $100,000-$200,000 just to remove all of the ceiling tiles in FA4.

“But just removing the tiles is not going to fix the problem,” Musman said. “Facilities is now aware of the problem. They can’t ignore it anymore.”

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