Paty Hall residents unified despite negative conditions, reputationBy Jared Downing | 09/11/2012 11:37am
Ask Jonathan Burpo about Paty Hall and he’ll tell you the entire floor smells like sweat and stale smoke.
The air is thick and wet, like a locker room, making everything slightly damp.
A rickety air conditioning unit keeps his room cool, but it’s loud and the air is so musty that he ties a scented freshener onto the vent just to beat back the funk. But Burpo hadn’t expected much when he moved in last month.
He knew the 50-year-old dorm’s reputation and he knew that losing the housing race against 7000 other freshmen would mean one thing: A long, hard semester in what some call the Paty Projects.
“I was like, OK, it’ll be Paty, I’ll deal with it,” he said. “Then the first day I moved in I was like, ‘OK, I gotta move out.’”
Burpo had aimed for one of the new suite-style dorms, the ones that make Paty’s cramped doubles look like field barracks. Instead of four-bedroom suites, a Paty dorm has painted cinderblock walls and a ceramic sink that makes the place feel oddly like a prison cell.
Instead of private bathrooms, Paty has a row of graffitied shower stalls that spray scalding water whenever someone flushes the toilet.
Paty’s brand of vintage college living may be on the out. The University has added 3,000 new private bedrooms in the last several years and a second Presidential Village will be completed by the time Burpo starts his sophomore year. The first one came with the demolition of Rose Towers.
Could Paty be next on Housing’s hit list?
The short answer, according to Housing Administration Director Alicia Browne, is no.
“I’ve been here seven years and I’ve heard that rumor every year,” she said. “There’s no truth to it.”
In fact Paty, which turned 50 this year, may actually outlive the brand new Presidential Village.
The building, a slab of steel and cement, was built to last up to 75 years, three times as long as the new, wood-framed dorms. Furthermore, suite-style dorms are still a relatively new trend while traditional residence halls like Paty, Tutwiler and Burke still make up most on-campus housing, and, Browne said, they aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
As for the cold floors and shared showers, she said that’s not squalor, it’s just college.
“That was the standard until very recently,” Browne said. “A lot of it has to do with the way this college student generation was raised. They’re used to having their own bedroom, their own bathroom. It’s just a different set of expectations.”
Burpo’s neighbor Colby Moeller is from California and he didn’t know anything about the dorms beforehand. He picked Paty for the lower price.
“It’s basic, but that’s pretty much what I expected,” he said.
But content or not, even Moeller suspects Paty is at the bottom of the housing barrel.
In his bathroom, he said usually at least two of the six toilets are clogged and full, and the door to one stall looks like someone tried to melt it with a Bic lighter. Supposedly there is a ping-pong room, but it’s always locked. The media room consists of a handful of mismatched desk chairs around a old, projection TV with a thumb-sized gash down the middle of the screen.
“Do you have an opinion about Paty Hall?” Moeller asked floormate Stewart Chandler in the hallway.
“There’s vomit on the floor over there,” Chandler said.
But Moeller likes Paty, busted TV and all. The residents band together to make the best of the dorm’s glitches, and while his friends at Ridgecrest hole up in their private rooms, Moeller knows most of the people in his hall by name.
“The rooms are basic, so you’re always out meeting people,” he said.
Browne agrees and worries that the increased privacy of private bedrooms may come at the loss of an important part of college life.
“We have to learn to compromise in different areas,” she said. “There is a lot to be gained in situations where people have to communicate and cooperate.”
Burpo and Moeller live next to Gabe Mcmahan, who ended up in Paty because it was the only space left. He said he despises the building, but still finds a sense of pride behind Paty’s grimy reputation. He takes the scalding showers and vomit-stained floors as badges of honor, and in fact, the only thing that really bothers him is that guy on the fourth floor who leaves the curtain open when he showers.
“This naked man needs to know the tyranny of his ways,” Mcmahan said.
Without much else to do, he spends time wandering between rooms, or sitting around with the group that gathers out front to chat and smoke cigarettes until the small hours of the morning.
“I go to Presidential every night and people just sit in their dorms,” Mcmahan said. “Paty’s a piece of crap, but damn it, we’re united.”