Photo: University of Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - University of Arkansas students who move into Humphreys Hall in August will find a big change: for the first time their rooms, and the building, have central air conditioning.
Humphreys, which opened in 1961, was the last residence hall on campus without this modern convenience.
Why did it take so long? Cost was a factor, but just as important, students didn't seem to mind living in rooms without air conditioning. You could even say they were cool with it.
"People wanted to live in Humphreys," said Katie Simms, a student who worked as a resident assistant there last year and will again this fall. She admits that not having air conditioning could be a challenge, especially in August and September.
"We'd open our windows and doors and turn on the fans - and we drank a lot of water," she explained. "We made it work."
Simms said those open doors helped create an inviting atmosphere and a real sense of community in Humphreys.
"That's a big part of why students picked Humphreys to live - there was a feeling of community that they didn't find in other places.
"Don't get me wrong - I'm definitely looking forward to having air conditioning in August," she added. "But I'm really curious to see if the community will be the same."
Humphreys was also popular because it has a central location on campus and was the least expensive residence hall. That won't change: obviously, it hasn't moved, and even though the board of trustees approved a rate increase at Humphreys, it is still the least expensive place to live on campus.
Ironically, improvements to the heating system in Humphreys last summer made it possible to install the air conditioning. The work contractors did making sure students had heat in their rooms also provided the infrastructure for a cooling system. That final part of the job was finished this spring by East Harding Construction and Petit and Petit Engineering. The total cost of the upgrade was $2 million.
There is a legend on campus to explain why Humphreys never had air conditioning.
"I call it a campus urban legend," said Heather Schneller, associate director of summer conferences for University Housing. "I heard it when I was a student 20 years ago."
The story goes that when Humphreys Hall and Yocum Hall opened, Humphreys was a women's hall and Yocum was for men. The students were reportedly given a choice between having telephones or air conditioning. The men supposedly chose air conditioning; the women wanted phones.
Besides it being politically incorrect and a bit sexist, there are at least three other problems with this story. First, Humphreys opened in 1961, Yocum in 1963; second, both residence halls were men-only until 1969; and, third, even in 1961 telephone lines and central air conditioning were not mutually exclusive.
The truth more likely had to do with money: In 1961, air conditioning was expensive and not considered a necessity. In fact, when Humphreys Hall opened, none of the residence halls or academic buildings - Old Main, for example - had central air conditioning. Over the past few decades the university has been retrofitting its older buildings with air conditioning, but making the change to a nine-story high rise like Humphreys was too expensive. Now, with construction bonds funded by a student fee, the money is available.
And it's appropriate that the students in Humphreys will benefit.
Not the stuff of legend, maybe - but it makes sense.
(Source: University of Arkansas)