Board of Trustees to decide in January on future of the Castle
The future of Usen Castle — a topic of deliberation at the University’s Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 26 and 27 — has been heavily debated, but not yet decided. The building's age, iconicity and safety concerns have all been administrative focuses, resulting in the formation of the Castle Advisory Group to evaluate strategies for the future, but little information has been revealed so far regarding any findings or plans.
Grady Ward ’16, Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees, confirmed in an interview with the Justice that the future of the castle was a topic of serious discussion at the Trustees’ meeting on campus last week.
Ward also expanded on the role and membership the Castle Advisory Group, confirming that “the physical facilities committee is deferring to the castle committee” on the issue. He explained that the Castle Advisory Group is comprised of students, trustees and alumni, but no faculty. Ward stated that the group is chaired by Vice President for Campus Operations Jim Gray, and the majority of decisions regarding the operations of the Castle Advisory Group came from both Gray and Andrew Flagel, the senior vice president for students and enrollment.
Additionally, Ward noted that the group is comprised of members of the Student Union Senate Campus Operations Working Group committee and the administrators who are most involved with facilities. He added that former Usen Castle Community Advisors, including himself, were selected for membership in the group on the basis that they “knew the building better than anyone else.”
Director of Community Living Timothy Touchette wrote in an email to the Justice that he is also a member of the Castle Advisory Group, but he confirmed that DCL does not run or coordinate the group.
Gray first publicly announced the Castle Advisory Group in an Aug. 31 email to the Brandeis community, in which he reported that the process for evaluating options for the future of the building began over the summer. According to the email, the group was formed to assess the future of the Castle and ultimately report to the Board of Trustees for a final decision, for which the Board will have to solidify a plan by their next meeting in January, according to Ward.
“The Board of Trustees has asked us to explore the feasibility of retaining and renovating some of the Castle’s most iconic and visible parts. We have put together a team of experts (structural engineer, architect and project manager) to work with us on this analysis, and have created a Castle Advisory Group, composed of staff, faculty, students and board members. We will keep the Brandeis community informed as this process unfolds,” the email stated regarding the group’s purpose.
Heightened safety concerns have necessitated this increased administrative discussion about the building’s future, especially as its 1928 construction date marks it as the oldest building on campus. The safety concerns surrounding the Castle were acknowledged in an email from Jim Gray to the Brandeis community on Dec. 3, 2014. “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. For your protection, the perimeter of the building will be roped off with hazard tape,” the email read. “Likewise, the roof of the Castle also remains off limits — please do not place yourself at risk while the work is being done.”
The Dec. 3 email also reported the beginnings of a process of renovation and renewal, stating, “We will be conducting an engineering survey of the building’s interior and exterior structures this month.”
In spite of these safety concerns, the Department of Public Safety has not been directly involved with the Castle Advisory Group and discussion efforts concerning the future of the building. Public Safety Director Ed Callahan stated in an email to the Justice that he is “not familiar” with the group and its work.
In a recent email to the Justice, Gray asserted the continued conversation over Usen Castle’s future, stating, “The Board is actively considering the options regarding the Castle, and the advisory group's work will start in earnest after the Board articulates the direction it wants to take.”