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Birch Construction; Temporarily Inconvenient, Improvement for the Long Run

Peder Aalgaard | Staff Writer | 10-20-2011

Birch Hall is currently being renovated, leaving students with one less dormitory to live in. The hall was originally built in 1950 and is the oldest dormitory on campus. Many of its features are outdated, such as an old steam heating system. The other issue was with the piping in the building: The poor condition of the pipes was enough to require replacing or renovating them. 

Residential Life was a part of the pre-design for what the dormitory will look like. Students have also been involved in designing the new look of Birch. The students that were a part of the pre-design gave similar ideas to what went into Linden Hall. They requested better privacy capabilities, better furniture, greater temperature control, and an elevator. The new set up will have a different atmosphere from Linden. Linden was originally set up to have a metro look to it. Birch is going to feel warmer and have a Northwoods feel to it. It will depend on the type of wood used, the color on the walls, the type of furniture, and the color and feel of the carpet.

The project is being worked on by many subcontractors whom have been hired by Don Lan, a contractor Bemidji State University has hired for previous jobs. The contractors are also being assisted by BSU’s own Mechanics and Chief Engineer Ricky Richter. At the time of this article, ground work has been done which includes adding a new fire system, new sewage system, moving high voltage wiring, moving steam piping, and doing most of the demolishing of the old set up. They have also started some of the plumbing in the upper floors.

Some of the bigger issues have been at the beginning of the project. The original bid for the renovation was over budget, causing a lot of things to be removed such as a basement ramp for handicap access. Moving the electrical wiring was difficult but doable for the team. Adding a new water line proved to be a challenge mostly because it caused students some problems. To add the water line, Birchmont Drive had to be closed off, which made driving around campus difficult. The Student Center for Health and Counseling has been moved to Cedar Apartments and has been given a “nice set up,” according to Richter. This has allowed for 25 additional rooms on the first floor.

Other difficulties have included finding places for students to live in. Having an entire dormitory out of use this year has been looked into this year. Birch is one of the most popular dorms on campus due to its proximity to the education buildings. Many returning students who would normally live in Birch this year have found housing in different dorms or off campus, something Res Life put into account before renovations began.

Birch is expected to have many new features to allow for improved student living. There will be two bathrooms on each floor instead of one. Each bathroom will have improved privacy capabilities. There will be a sink, toilet, and shower in individual compartments, complete with lockable doors. A lounge on each floor connecting both wings with a kitchen area in each, similar to Oak and Maple hall. The new heating system is meant to recover heat for heating and cooling the building. Instead of simply pulling air inside, sending it though the building and then back outside, it will reuse some of the air for temperature control. This allows for less energy to be spent on correctly changing the air temperature. A heater will also be added to each room, allowing for better control of room temperature.

Although there is question about whether Residential Life will pay for it, Birch is expected to have a keycard system similar to Linden Hall. The BSU Environmental Group has worked on the project through the Residential Life department. Richter has said that while he is not directly working with the environmental team, he believes the building is at its greenest. Space was effectively used in Birch, allowing for more rooms and lounges. 

Former Birch Hall Residential Assistant Samantha Peter enjoyed her time spent in Birch. She felt the biggest issue was that people using it did not realize how old the structure was. The room size, carpeting, and its general design were perks that are not found in most other dormitories. The only things she thought needed to be fixed up were the kitchens and the plumbing system. While this is her last year, she hopes Birch does not become too much like Linden Hall and keeps its more social feel.

“I don’t want Birch to become a fancy dorm,” Sam said, “I just want it to be warm and inviting so people want to live in it and enjoy being there.”

The project is slated for completion in April 2012.