Increased construction and the recent heat wave have exacerbated pre-existing accessibility issues on campus. Routes to classes are longer and more variable, resulting in frustration among the student body.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Rose West ’26 shared concerns she had regarding her service dog’s health throughout the heat wave.
“The first week of classes, I was still trying to figure out everywhere I needed to go and I was getting lost a lot,” West said. “Walking outside in 90-degree heat for upwards of 25 minutes for a walk that would usually take eight did have me pretty worried. I didn’t want my dog to go into heat stroke from being unable to cool herself down from walking.”
West also highlighted the lack of consistency in accessible paths due to increased construction.
“To make matters worse, due to the ever-evolving nature of construction, the accessible paths change and can confuse people… as a sophomore, everything I’ve learned in my freshman year is now pretty much useless,” she explained.
Associate Vice President for Sustainable Facilities Operation and Capital Planning Andrew Feick provided insight into some of the difficulties of managing construction. One of the main issues he highlighted was the problem of maintaining accessible paths around campus.
“There has also been a robust effort with College Communications to develop signs that help guide community members and visitors around construction areas and to also let the community know what the goals of the various construction efforts are,” Feick said.
He further explained that it is sometimes difficult to communicate with the student body about the construction process or read updates.
“It is always a challenge to reach everyone, especially those who ignore emails, do not come to town hall meetings, and do not visit the websites… [but] we have periodic coordination meetings with the construction managers, facilities project managers, and College Communications to plan future work areas and accessibility routes,” Feick said.
The difficulty of communicating with the student body presents a disconnect. New or changed paths can often come as a surprise to students.
“I acknowledge that disruption to routes community members are used to using can be frustrating,” Feick said. “As far as I know areas are still accessible to everyone although some routes are temporarily circuitous.”
Feick also mentioned that American Disabilities Act (ADA) Program Manager Susan Smythe helps students with mobility challenges navigate construction areas on campus. West confirmed that she spoke with Smythe about the construction before returning to campus and was informed of the buildings and areas that would be shut down.
Director of Student Disability Services Monica Vance, Associate Dean of Academic Success Liz Derickson, and Susan Smythe provided a joint statement to The Phoenix on the issue of accessibility and construction outlining the efforts that Student Disability Services (SDS) has made to improve accessibility on campus in light of increased construction. SDS has been working alongside Facilities Management, Public Safety, and Student Engagement and Dining, among others.
“Some of the accessibility support that has been provided includes updates to the College’s interactive campus map, signage posted around construction areas, new accessible pathways, additional shuttle routes, and accessible parking spaces in new locations, and automatic door openers installed in new locations,” the statement said. “When necessary and appropriate, our collective offices have worked with individuals to provide reasonable accessibility support for their specific needs.”
While there is a coordinated effort to help guide students through the construction, Deborah Bergel Aquique ’24, a student with a mobility disability, explained her desire for the college to be more proactive while planning for accessibility concerns.
“A lot of people in the disability community will often say that accessibility should be thought of beforehand — before a disabled person arrives,” Aquique said. “But changes usually aren’t made until the disabled person is there.”
However, Aquique clarified that after voicing her complaints, the administration was able to make improvements on her behalf. In addition, Smythe reached out to her over the summer to discuss the new layout of the campus.
“I am really grateful that once the need was expressed, forcefully enough and in enough detail, changes were made in the end,” Aquique said. “I am grateful that there is a community that is willing to help [me].”
While Feick understands students’ navigational difficulties due to construction, he emphasized the importance of the college’s carbon neutrality goal.
“While the inconveniences of construction will pass, the climate and program benefits for our community will be long-lasting,” Feick said. “A benefit of the 20X35 energy plan is that air conditioning of all of the College beds will be completed as the College works through the program completion by 2035.”
The reactions to construction on campus are varied; some people are excited by the prospect of a carbon-neutral campus with new amenities, but to others, the issue is more complicated. All members of the college community are eager for ongoing projects to come to fruition.
“There is nobody who is more excited than I am for when we take construction fences down and open new spaces for the College community,” Feick said.
As the college grapples with ways to address accessibility concerns while maintaining institutional goals, Aquique emphasizes the importance of standing up for others as a way to bring the college forward.
“Once you are aware of [accessibility issues] and once you feel this anger, turn it into action,” Aquique urged. “If you notice something that might not be accessible, you can also be the person to point it out to the right people, like a faculty member or someone in the SDS or ADA programs. Once you notice it, you are also one of the people that can take action.”