City of Waltham delays the Castle demolition by one year
The city of Waltham Historical Commission stalled the University’s plans to demolish part of the Usen Castle and build a new dormitory in its place at a hearing on Monday night. The Commission voted unanimously to delay demolition of the Castle for one year unless the University presents a plan that the Committee finds acceptable and chooses to waive the year-long waiting period. Their decision was made based upon its apparent historic value to the city.
The two-hour long discussion on the Castle was held at the Waltham City Hall Monday night, beginning with Commission Board Member Laurence Alexander Green ’04 reading a brief history of the Castle. He explained that it was built as part of Middlesex University and is one of two buildings left on campus from that time in its history. He also mentioned that Eleanor Roosevelt taught classes in the Castle, and Martin Luther King Jr. addressed students in it.
Brandeis administrators and representatives then presented their plans for renovation. Interim University President Lisa Lynch opened with a statement, explaining that Brandeis “grew up around the Castle” and that it is beloved by the community, but that it was “poorly designed” as it did not have an architect or engineers work on it, and it was “inexpensively constructed” because it was built during the Great Depression.
She explained that after considering various options, the University developed a plan to preserve towers A and B of the Castle — the most iconic pieces easily seen from the road and containing Cholmondeley’s coffeehouse — while demolishing towers C, D, E and Schwartz Hall and building a new dormitory in their place. An early sketch of the plan illustrated the layout of the proposal, with a green quad between the remaining towers and the new dormitory buildings. Vice President for Operations James Gray mentioned later that they might incorporate old pieces of the Castle walls into the landscaping.
Lynch mentioned that the University looked into preserving the entire building but found that it would be “prohibitively expensive,” costing between $80 to 90 million. The plan as proposed would cost $37 million, including both the demolition of the current structure and the construction of its proposed replacement. She said that to preserve the Castle in its current form and keep it livable would cost four times as much per bed, later emphasized by Robert Dickey, the leader of the study into options for the Castle, who explained that it would cost between $700,000 and $900,000 per bed but that the proposed plan would cost $230,000 per bed. This latter cost per bed is closer to comparable institutions.
“We have a responsibility to spend our scarce resources on our core mission,” Lynch said. “As a research university, our highest priority is to invest in educational excellence by continuing to attract the very best faculty and by increasing financial support so that no exceptionally qualified student who is offered acceptance at Brandeis, including many from Waltham, is precluded from attending for financial reasons.”
Following Lynch’s presentation, Gray spoke, explaining that the University strives to have 90 percent of students live on campus, but that the current housing falls short by about 320 beds. The new dormitory would add about 60 beds to overall campus housing. He also explained that the Castle is currently a safety hazard, with mortar and stone falling, as well as that several ceilings had collapsed over the past several years. He said that the University has invested over $1 million in preservation efforts to make the castle safe this year, such as scaffolding and wrapping the towers to prevent falling stone.
Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees Grady Ward ’16 spoke on his time as a Community Advisor in the Castle last year, explaining that of the approximately 120 students living in the Castle at the beginning of the year, 30 were forced to move to other housing throughout the year due to the condition of the building. He added that the students understand the benefits of the University’s plan and generally support it, as they are aware of the “financial tradeoffs,” and that both the Justice and the Brandeis Hoot, along with the Student Union, have endorsed the plan. Lynch later added, “Students at Brandeis are known for being vocal and they are not bashful in coming forward on this, and this is probably the only issue which I have not had vocal [pushback].”
The meeting then opened to questions from the Commission, covering subjects such as whether the University had investigated alternate funding sources and other locations to build new dormitories. The Commission was also interested in hearing about specific plans for the preservation of towers A and B, as well as how thoroughly the University had investigated preserving the exterior structure. Commission member and Secretary Marie Daly mentioned that it was not the Commission’s job to take into account the cost of preservation, only if the building was worth preserving based on its historical value. The Commission also asked if the University had explored the possibility of renovating the Castle for uses other than housing, as it might be less expensive. Gray said that while they had, the most immediate need of the University was housing, and that seemed to make the most sense for the space.
The meeting then opened to comments from the public, with several community members speaking in favor of preserving the Castle. Edmund Tarallo ’04 spoke of his time living in the Castle, explaining that it was a priceless experience. He said that the University should be ashamed for letting it deteriorate as far as it did, and that they should not let it disappear simply because it is old and needs work.
Waltham resident Andrea Newley recalled walking past the Brandeis campus with her children and telling them about the giant that lived in the castle and would come down the hill, and said, “Waltham’s history can’t be given away.” Gray joked that she should not worry because the giant lives in Tower A.
The meeting closed with statements from the committee members, most generally in support of delaying the demolition of the Castle in favor of considering other possible ways to preserve it. Commission member Sean Wilson moved to preserve the Castle for a year, with a unanimous vote in favor from all seven members of the board.
Chairperson Clarence Richardson Jr. closed the meeting by explaining that the University should work to revise its proposal, and that the yearlong renovation delay could be waived by the Commission if it finds a new proposal acceptable.
Among the suggestions the committee made for revisions to the proposal were a revised approach to the utilization of the structure, an investigation into preserving the Castle and expanding housing on to other parts of campus including green spaces and parking lots.
A previous version of this article referred to Waltham as a town. It is actually a city.