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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Usen Castle starts beginning stages of renovation process

Published: January 16, 2015
Section: News

Usen Castle and Schwartz Hall will be undergoing an engineering survey and renovations in an effort to modernize the two buildings. Vice President for Operations Jim Gray announced the school’s plans for the survey and renovations in an email to students in mid-December.

The Castle is the oldest building on the Brandeis campus, built in 1928 as part of Middlesex College of Medicine and Surgery and was later converted into student housing. As the oldest building, the Castle has experienced maintenance and structural issues over the years, issues that the university has been working to correct and prevent. The engineering survey being conducted on the Castle will look at the interior and exterior of the building as part of the renovations and renewals that the university is planning.

Campus Operations will be taking various precautions to ensure the safety of Brandeis students during the survey and renovations. Gray, in a campus-wide email, encouraged students to “please be aware that the study of the exterior, and the changes in weather, can pose a serious danger of falling debris, especially with a facility like the Castle.” He explained that the building will be roped off in order to protect students from any potential dangers that the construction and survey may pose. The roof of the Castle will remain off-limits for the duration of the survey and construction.

According to the Department of Community Living, Usen Castle and Schwartz Hall house 120 students and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to residences, the Castle houses a pottery studio open for student use. The Castle was set to undergo repairs in 2012. In October of 2011, Castle residents with broken windows had rooms reaching freezing temperatures. Castle residents frequently complain of inadequate or broken heating, as well other structural issues that come with the building’s age. The Brandeis Hoot reported that in 2009, portions of the Castle roof collapsed after a rainstorm, damaging the property of Castle residents. The university has delayed many repair projects set to occur in 2008 and cut back on maintenance due to economic problems, causing the Castle to fall further into disrepair.

Usen Castle has served many different purposes over the years. As part of Middlesex College of Medicine and Surgery, it housed lecture halls, administrative offices and labs. For the survey, engineers and other survey team members may have to enter students’ rooms in the Castle. In the event this is necessary, residents or Department of Community living staff members will accompany the survey team members into the students’ rooms.

It remains unclear exactly what types of repair work will be necessary after the survey is completed and how the remainder of the construction will affect the students living in the Castle. Gray wrote in an email to The Hoot that “we are in the process of studying the needs of the whole building. Until we have a complete assessment, it is too soon to discuss the potential next steps.” Students with questions or concerns about the construction and engineering survey have been encouraged to contact Campus Operations for more information.