November 6, 2017
Natalie Dignam

“Memorial’s Battery Facility will be a public engagement hub – a place for Memorial and the community to connect.” That is how the website for the Battery describes the facility, a former hotel that has been housing graduate students since Memorial University acquired it in 2015. How residents and the University define the facility- as primarily graduate student housing or a future place of connection for the University and the province- has led to a disconnect between the expectations of students and their experiences.

The Battery is still under construction and is expected to reach completion in the spring of 2018. Currently, the building is used solely to house students.

“The vision of the battery was always to be an interdisciplinary, inter-organizational place of collision- a hub for the University and the public to intersect,” said Jennifer Adams, the Lead Strategic Development, at the Battery Facility. She described how, upon the completion of the facility, graduate students will be able to interact with a variety of organizations that will also be taking up residence in the Battery. These include the Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development, the Genesis Centre (a business and tech incubator), and the Gardiner Centre (an organization that links the Faculty of Business Administration at MUN and the business community), in addition to a conference center. Formal collaborative opportunities, such as internships and volunteer positions, are still in development.

“In thinking about this whole facility, the students are one group of stakeholders in this space- it’s different than student residences,” said Adams. In terms of the part of the building that houses students, Adams defines the Battery as an independent living facility, like an apartment.

Some students view the Battery as primarily a residence, similar to those on-campus. Nate Little, a graduate student who moved into the Battery this semester, said, “The people that live there see it as a residence. They want to live there, get to class and get home. They want the benefit of living independently.” Little also pointed out that Battery residents’ mail is collected by the housing office like on-campus residences.

Anusree Subramonian, a graduate student, views the Battery as an independent living facility. She moved from Burton’s Pond to the Battery last fall after visiting a friend who lived there. She was impressed by the views and has enjoyed living in a “diverse kind of community” that provides her both privacy and community.

Like on-campus residences, the Battery also has Resident Coordinators (RCs) trained by Residence Life who help connect residents with the appropriate services on and off campus, assist in community issues, and organize events like potlucks. Shannon, an RC at the Battery said, “It’s a job that requires lots of different things, but primarily it’s to make sure students feel welcome, are able to function in their home-away-from-home, and have a way to get back into their rooms when locked out!”

A focal point of student frustration that has exposed the varying expectations about what is included as part of living at the Battery is the shuttle service. The shuttle transports students from the Battery to campus and the Marine Institute. The shuttle broke down permanently on September 27. Although the University secured a replacement vehicle last summer, that new vehicle would not be available until December. Until that time, residents have been relying on a 6-passenger van.

“Everyone is there because of this transportation, that’s just fact,” said Little.

Monike Porter, who has been living in the Battery since last year, also felt that the shuttle was a major reason she chose to live there. Since the shuttle was replaced with a minivan, Porter found it more difficult to plan her trips to and from campus.

“Whenever I can’t get the shuttle I have to take the bus or more often a cab. Last year we asked the school if we would be receiving any compensation for the money being spent on transportation while the shuttle was not in service due to driver illness but our request was refused. Many of us were very upset because the shuttle had been promised and then taken away and most people didn’t have a backup plan in place and ended up spending more money on transportation than they budgeted for which is unacceptable in my mind. If you promise a service and have to take it away you should show more compassion for the trouble you are putting people through,” said Porter.

Subramonian knew that other students were concerned about the shuttle service, but said she was not affected because she often walked to campus, walked down the hill to the bus stop, or did not use the shuttle at peak times.

On November 2, after prior email communication and an open meeting on October 26 at the Johnson Geo Center, the Battery Facility office emailed students to update them on the shuttle service. In recognition of student expectations regarding the shuttle, the email states: “It was noted by a number of residents that the shuttle service had been an important factor in choosing to live at the Battery Facility and that there may be issues in how we have promoted the service, its reliability, and the University’s responsibilities related to the service. Please know that we hear and understand these concerns and are in the process of re-visiting our marketing and communications strategy/procedures relating to the service specifically, and accommodations in general.”

Although Porter and other students felt that the shuttle service was promised, the email notes that the terms of use of the shuttle are posted online. The email also states that the shuttle was originally introduced, “to address residents’ safety concerns related to walking Signal Hill Road in the dark during winter months.” As Adams explained, the shuttle was originally implemented to “alleviate short term pain.”

Adams said that the shuttle service is planned to be continued “as a Memorial transportation and sustainability initiative serving the campus community, not as a dedicated service for the Battery.” For now, the Battery office is working to secure a second vehicle to operate during peak times. Residents currently have access to the van.

The residents who spoke with the Muse noted the incredible views at the Battery and the benefits of private washrooms and large rooms. Porter said, “I was thrilled when I moved in because it seemed completely perfect! It looked exactly like the pictures and there were big kitchens and beautiful views. The problem is that the quality of the place seems to be slowly declining and you notice more problems the longer you live here.”

Little echoed her concerns, stating, “The battery is a good building with lots of promise and good people, but it’s neglected in more ways than one.”