From bats to chills: Students give mixed reviews of Seager Wheeler Hall

By in Features/News

Seager Wheeler Hall is known around the University of Saskatchewan as one of the cheapest and most dated places to live in student residence. Administration has invested money into renewal projects to the building, but it has still not outgrown the rumours that surround it.

SW and the rest of McEown Park were built in the 1970s, and it is widely agreed upon that the building needs some updates to bring it up to the same level of quality as the newer residences. Students are able to unify together through their shared stories of bedbugs and unregulated heating, yet they are still somewhat divided on whether they believe the building meets the standards of what students deserve to live in while studying at the U of S.

Heath Dionne, a second-year education student, explains that he was accepted into the university and registered in the housing portal late, which is why he ended up in SW. Dionne explains that, since he is from rural Saskatchewan, he was not able to view the building before moving in, and he believes the pictures did not accurately portray his accommodations.

“We looked online, and we could not find any pictures. I think [my mom] might have found some, but it was a picture of the living room, and it was not at all what my living room looked like. It was nice and shiny, and the carpet wasn’t disgusting,” Dionne said. “When I moved in, there was a note on the stove that said ‘Stove is broken — do not use,’ and within two days our toilet broke.”

A number of the students interviewed explained that many of those who live in SW are first-year students who are from outside of Saskatoon, either people from rural parts of the province or international students. Some people, like Dionne, felt like they did not have enough information about the residence before moving in.

Even those who think back on their time living in SW as neutral or positive comment on how this residence in particular has the lowest rent at just $470 a month, including cable and internet. Some say you get what you pay for, while others believe it is not worth the cheap cost to live there.

Danielle Moen*, a student in the College of Arts and Science and former employee in a student-residence building other than SW, explains that resident assistants are often given what she believes are unreasonable tasks that they are not properly informed about before accepting the job.

“Part of the RA description is dealing with bats, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily something that’s fair for the RAs to do, to be catching bats and then releasing them outside, just because [of] the risk of getting bit or stuff like that… All [RAs] are equipped with [are] gloves and a little net,” Moen said.

One of the campaign points that U of S Students’ Union President David D’Eon ran on was to advocate for improvements to student housing. D’Eon explains that, when he came into office, he brought students’ concerns to the administration, and he is pleased that they are taking steps to address these concerns.

“Even though administration is planning to redo some of the older buildings, that shouldn’t be a reason not to communicate with them, especially because those renovations depend on funding [and] depend on … being a priority in the future,” D’Eon said.

“They weren’t getting rid of them properly, because with bedbugs, you’re supposed to exterminate the whole building… At most, they would only ever do one room or one unit.”

– Kiera Demorest,
former U of S student

The university hopes to expand student residences to accommodate 15 per cent of the student body instead of the 12 per cent that it currently meets the capacity for. D’Eon says that the university has a tentative plan for a new residence building but that this plan will not be initiated for three years and funding is pending for the project.

However, not everyone has had a poor experience in SW. Logan Huard, a final-year political studies student, lived in SW for two and a half years and speaks highly of his time there, as he was able to interact with many students from various backgrounds.

“You’re not going to get much closer to the university for any less, so it was very affordable, and I really like that. It was also really multicultural, which was a thing that was big for me,” Huard said. “The RAs put on a board game night, and I remember playing Jenga with some people from Nigeria, and that’s an experience that I cherish, [which] I feel like a lot of other places don’t have.”

SW consists of four units per floor that house six people per unit. Those six people share a kitchen, living room and bathroom with one another. The individual rooms each have a sink, a desk and a closet; beds and mattresses are supplied.

George Foufas, the association director, consumer services, manages the student-residence portfolio, and while he admits that SW is dated, he explains that the university has recently spent over half a million dollars on furniture renewal in the building to upgrade the couches, chairs, tables and beds this past summer.

Currently, the boiler in the building is being replaced, costing $400,000. Foufas expects that the work will be finished during the week of Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. Adam Prefontaine*, a student currently living in SW, explains that this update unexpectedly cut off the hot water available for students to use.

“Everybody started complaining about heating, … because it’s been a while. They emailed us, and they said … they are working on it, because they have to fix the boiler or something. So, they cut the hot water on Friday, and they said they are going to cut it at 9, but the water was out at 7. We went to take a shower, and there was no hot water,” Prefontaine said.

“I was extremely depressed when I lived there. I think the first time I called my parents and told them I wanted to drop out was the first month.”

Cole Chretien,
third-year political studies

While there have been projects to update the building in the past year, some of the students who lived in residence prior to these renewals look back on their time in SW with little nostalgia. Kiera Demorest lived in SW for one term before deciding to discontinue her education. Demorest’s biggest frustration is that the measures used for bedbugs were just preventative and not permanent.

“There were just some people in passing … who would say they had bedbugs, a couple [of] times, and other people in general who were there [in] past years and had the same problem,” Demorest said. “They weren’t getting rid of them properly, because with bedbugs, you’re supposed to exterminate the whole building… At most, they would only ever do one room or one unit.”

Mohamud Yussuf, a first-year engineering student, explains that his experience living in SW last year was good, because his living space was quiet enough for him focus on school work without being distracted.

“Sometimes you have some assignments, which may be due, and the library closes at 11, and then you can’t always go home and study and do [your] assignments… So, it’s good … for students, because if you have assignments, it is a nice place to be, because … you won’t hear any noise or anything,” Yussuf said.

Students in residence are often living away from home for the first time, and this, combined with the pressure of school, leads many to suffer greatly from mental-health issues, says Moen. She notes that there is stigma around mental health in residences and not enough resources are provided to RAs.

Cole Chretien, a third-year political studies student, attributes his mental-health issues directly to living in SW and considered discontinuing school or transferring to another university.

“I was extremely depressed when I lived there. I think the first time I called my parents and told them I wanted to drop out was the first month. A constant [problem was] not being happy with where I was. I was so mad. I didn’t want to take part in university life, because I was almost mad at the university in a way.”

Chretien hopes that the university can build a residence that balances the affordability of SW with the quality of the College Quarter.

“I don’t know if there’s anything to save, which sucks. It’s so outdated. You can spruce it up aesthetically, but it’s not going to get at the underlying problem,” Chretien said. “I would like to see a new residence building that is comparable to CQ. The fact [is] that CQ is a premium that only rich kids get to go to after high school… We need something that is livable and gives a good impression of the university.”

*To respect the privacy of the individuals interviewed, their names have been changed.

Nykole King / News Editor

Photographic Illustration: Nykole King, News Editor, and Lesia Karalash, Graphics Editor