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University board faced with mistrust on the Kruyt building renovations

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Biologists and chemists in the Kruyt building in De Uithof seem to have lost all confidence in the Executive Board. In an information meeting last week, president Anton Pijpers failed to gain the support of the Kruyt building denizens for its plans of large-scale renovations: too much has happened in the (recent) past.

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“My team and I joined the discussion in good faith, and helped work on the plans for the new buildings that were said to be planned for us. But one day I woke up, and everything was different.” Who can promise us the same thing won’t happen again, Spinoza winner Albert Heck seemed to say at the end of an emotional meeting last Thursday.

That morning, Executive Board president Anton Pijpers and Fiona van ‘t Hullenaar, director of Corporate Real Estate & Campus, visited the Kruyt building. Their goal: to elaborate on the plans for renovating the Kruyt building while scientists keep working in the other three wings of the building. It proved to be a less than strategic moment for the two to ask the researchers for their trust: that same week, fifty students had to be sent home, and work had to be suspended for two days, as a result of the second ‘asbestos leak’ in the building in a short time.

Employees were angry about the way the university handled things after the leak was discovered. Measurements had to be taken, but the person responsible for this had the day off, and so – as employees were told – they had to simply wait. If that’s the way the university deals with asbestos leaks, what does that say about the future, when rigorous renovations are taking place and other dangerous situations may arise, seemed to be a common thought.

Van ‘t Hullenaar acknowledged that this recent course of action does not breed trust. She admitted things were handled wrong, and that this shouldn’t have happened. She promised to do better in the future, and explained that up until now, all maintenance to the building was the bare minimum. “Until about seven months ago, we assumed this building would be demolished in 2021. That has led to an increase in the number of incidents. Now that the building will remain, we’ll increase maintenance, and the number of incidents will decrease as a result.”

Highly critical
Those present at the meeting, however, are highly critical of the plans. Previously, the faculty had been promised two new buildings where, if necessary, an additional floor could be constructed on top in case the number of employees and students would increase. The Executive Board has since scrapped those plans. During the process of creating a new corporate housing plan, it turned out that renovating the Kruyt building was the cheaper option – one that meant additional funds would be available to invest in housing elsewhere.

The biologists and chemists were not swayed, however. They wanted to see data. Is it true that construction of a new building is more expensive than renovating a current one? And is it true they will not experience nuisance during their work when one of the wings of the X-shaped building is under heavy construction? The so-called vibrations test done by Corporate Real Estate & Campus, which was done to check whether it’s possible to renovate while experiments are being conducted elsewhere in the building, was a disgrace, some say. “The results could only have been better if you’d done the test on a Sunday morning.”

Van ‘t Hullenaar says the costs of renovation and construction aren’t set in stone. “We always work with estimates.” She does have faith in the vibrations test, because the company she’d hired to do the test based its findings on scientific research. She trusts that a rubber partition and fully separate workplaces will mean both the construction crew and the scientists will be able to do their job without issue. President Pijpers added that he thinks the construction work will not lead the faculty to become less attractive for top students and scientists. “We’ll lure them with the perspective of a state-of-the-art building and facilities.”

New meeting and new agreements
It will take a while before construction will start. If everything goes according to plan, the work will start in the fall of 2021. The time before that will be spent with meetings with the biologists and chemists about their desires for the renovated building. Agreements will be put on paper, such as installing a ‘red button’. Van ‘t Hullenaar: “With that, I mean that if someone thinks something’s going wrong with the construction work, that person can push the red button and the work will be suspended, only continuing after the problem has been fixed.”

When construction starts in 2021, the west wing is up first, turning into a modern building with – as Van ‘t Hullenaar emphasised – an insulated façade which will help keep out the noise of the construction work. This will take 15 months to two years. After that, it’s the north wing’s turn, and then the east wing will be renovated. The south wing will have to be available for the expected growth of the faculty, and will be renovated at a lower speed.

The audience still wasn’t convinced that after years of construction and nuisance, they will eventually have a modern building that provides space for spontaneous meetings that are to support the interdisciplinary character of the research. “They’re four separate wings. Those spontaneous meetings can only happen in the core of the building, how do you want to facilitate those in a building like this?” The director of Corporate Real Estate & Campus didn’t have to think long about her answer. “That’s a challenge for the architect, to turn a cross into a circle, or to come up with connections between the wings.”

Hands were raised, but there was no more time to let everyone ask their questions. “How is that possible,” one member of the audience said, “the meeting was supposed to last two hours, wasn’t it? We’ve only been talking for an hour.” In response, Pijpers said he’ll be returning in a month to answer more questions.

Faculty council voices its concerns

During a meeting of the faculty council for the faculty of Science this past Monday, the council members voiced their concern about the emotions amongst the denizens of the Kruyt building and the lack of trust in the executive board. They wondered why the employees were ambushed by the announcement that the Kruyt will be renovated while in use, and why input was apparently not included.

The faculty board said it shares the concerns of the biologists and chemists, and will work on the communication surrounding the upcoming renovations. Dean Isabel Arends and director Klaas Druijf acknowledged that the way the decision was taken leaves a lot to be desired. The board itself had also been surprised when they heard the Executive Board’s decision this summer.

The faculty board had called for more time from the executive board for further meetings with the building’s residents, in order to win their trust by providing more information. Director Klaas Druijf: “I think there’s a chance we can turn the Kruyt building into something beautiful, but we needed three more months to discuss the plans with our employees.” The executive board wasn’t able to give them that time, because it wanted to present a university-wide strategy, according to Druijf.
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