Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Chilling Towers Exposed

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Chilling Towers Exposed
Ayelet Haran
Issue date: 12/11/06 Section: Feature

Media Credit: Peter Lemons

A Horror TripIt started as a friendly visit to the "Towers" that one of my classmates had been raving about since the beginning of the semester. It turned into a horror movie as the true face of the towers revealed itself in all its glory. Dear students, I'm glad to introduce the residential nightmare disguised as the "safe and affordable" dormitories known as the "Towers."

Many CCNY students were skeptical about the completion of the towers happening before the beginning of the fall semester. A quick outdoor glance doesn't reveal any problems. In fact, strolling through the 9th floor suite the dorms look promising. New beds, mattresses, and cherry oak furniture, which might not be my taste but it works. In the living room, I discovered a hole in the panel near the window. The story is that maintenance arrived to fix an invisible leak in the ceiling and ended up making a hole in the floor. That was over two weeks ago.

The bathrooms are simple but nice. The kitchen is equipped with an electric stovetop and a microwave; and if you are planning some major cooking there are two large ovens and additional refrigeration storage on the first floor. The main floor also serves as a lounge area with comfortable chairs and a flat screen television, usually tuned to sports channels. There is a spacious laundry room, a cozy gym, and a study room that can be reserved for private parties. Seeming like a pretty sweet deal, its 10 minutes from campus with a security guard at the entrance and utilities included. However, a visit to a second floor neighbor unmasked the pretty exterior of the towers.

Interviews with five residents revealed several very frightening stories. There have been over five muggings in the vicinity of the dorms in recent weeks; some at gunpoint. Ever since the path through the south campus closed for construction, every trip to the corner store is filled with terror. The residents are afraid to leave their apartments over the weekend preferrring not to risk it. In one case, a student got mugged and beaten while the security guard sat in his booth watching. The guard replied later that he couldn't have done anything because the robber was armed with a knife. Out of the students I spoke to half are expected to leave before next semester. They hope to get their security deposit back, but they value their safety at a higher price. In fact, I was explicitly asked not to include any of their names in this article--not even first names--for the management knows them. They were afraid that they would have trouble getting their deposits back were their identities to be revealed. Talk about a "big-brother" program!

Life in the towers is filled with many additional complications. The laundry room wasn't in operation for the first three weeks of September, and the construction continues to disrupt the students' lives. Each room has its own radiator/air conditioner, but many thermostats weren't working properly for weeks; leaving the residents either freezing cold or suffocating from the heat.

And yes, the Towers do have the makings of a normal dormitory situation: Young students yelling in the halls and littering the elevators, signs advertising movie nights and an 80s party, girls in bathrobes smoking outside...

The outdoor smokefest provided more ill words about the dormitories. Most of the stories were along the same lines and all filled with great disappointment. A substantial portion of the rooms are owned by Educational Housing Services, an organization that to students from all schools in the city. With no connection to the school, they don't see the need to live in the Harlem residence that puts additional stress on their lives. They try to make a home in the new building, but cannot tolerate living at such a high personal and financial cost.

To be sure, I did meet someone whose tale was slightly less grim. "There is nothing to complain about here if you've lived anywhere else in New York" says Lindsey, an advocate for the towers whose housing was paid for by her student loans while she takes on a full-time school load. The dorms give her the freedom to participate in extracurricular activities and still maintain a high GPA, without battling cockroaches and mice as she did in her previous apartments. So to her, The Towers was really the lesser of many evils. But is there really nothing to complain about? Perhaps the neighborhood's criminal seed raised its eyebrow at the sight of students residing among them. Perhaps it's "this time of year." Or perhaps the security and the police department need to open their eyes to the dangers the students face and provide better lighting for the paths and security in the halls.

Right before I departed the building, I noticed the unpainted concrete on both inside and outside the building. It can hardly pass as a decorative decision. The rumor whispered between the residents is that the owners ran out of money. Typical: take it out on the poor students paying roughly $1000 a month for housing. My walk back to the train station wasn't as pleasant as the one I took just an hour earlier. If beforehand I could almost forget I was in Harlem, the stroll back to campus turned into a stressful trip with my phone in my hand, ready to call 911.

Don't you feel safe now?

Note: This article is the personal account of the writer and reflects only the stories of those she interviewed, which may or may not be representative. A more extensive news story is underway.

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