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September 1, 2008 | by  | in News |
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Unicomm residents stick it to the man

Frustrated Unicomm residents took their complaints to the street in a protest held on the University’s Study at Vic Open Day on 22 August.

The Unicomm buildings, which are owned by ING Real Estate and operated by Campus Living Villages, include Cumberland House and McKenzies Apartments. Both buildings have been plagued by ongoing maintenance problems this year including flooding, mould and sewerage leaks.

According to Ruth Moorhouse, Director of Student Services, “ING agreed to upgrade the McKenzies and Cumberland buildings over the summer… as part of an agreement with the University.”

“Unfortunately this work created some unforeseen problems including leaking in rooms.”

Protest organiser Josh McArthur said the open day protest was a “last ditch attempt” to express their concerns to the management of the Hall of Residence.

3 News coverage of the protest reported that residents described their Unicomm experience as “the year from hell”.

Continued construction work has been disruptive to students’ study and has resulted in less than ideal living conditions for the mostly first-year residents who have repeatedly petitioned management about their concerns, but to little avail.

McArthur said that the protest on University’s Open Day had been undertaken with the belief that it would “have the most influence on [management].”

Tours of the Unicomm facilities were cancelled during the Open Day. Tour guides at the Faculty of Architecture and Design said many prospective students and their parents visiting the Te Aro campus were angered that they were not able to see Unicomm’s facilities on Study at Vic day, with many of them having travelled great lengths to attend the Open Day.

Given the close proximity of Unicomm to the Te Aro campus, Cumberland and McKenzies are popular choices for first year Architecture and Design students, and since the closure of Southern Cross, there are few other accommodation alternatives to Unicomm for Architecture and Design students who want to live as close as possible to campus.

“There was no tour of Unicomm at Study at the Vic day as we need to be sure that all our 15 student accommodation options are of the highest standard before we provide tours and information for prospective residents. In addition, we did not feel it was appropriate to be taking future students through accommodation when current residents were clearly unhappy,” Ruth Moorhouse, Director of Student Services, explained.

McArthur and other residents took many prospective students and their parents on unofficial tours of the buildings, by signing people in as guests.

McArthur said many of those who had intended to apply for Unicomm changed their minds after being shown the facilities. Footage of some of the maintenance issues and damage appeared on
3 News.

McArthur admits that the protest will not result in empty beds at Unicomm next year, because of the high demand for student accommodation in Wellington. “We can’t accomplish empty beds, but we can damage their reputation,” he said.

Moorhouse pointed out: “While the publicity about Unicomm may impact on the number of applications received we believe that next year the Unicomm buildings will be in a good condition and that students will enjoy being there as thousands of residents have done in previous years.

According to Moorhouse, the University had acted quickly to attempt to resolve the situation once becoming aware of students’ concerns. She added that leaks in the rooms were patched as they occurred, with students either financially compensated or moved to another room.

However, 3 News reported that of the more than 500 Unicomm residents, only six have received compensation.

McArthur added that Unicomm residents are planning weekly protests to keep pressure on management to resolve the ongoing issues and complaints.

Moorhouse has urged students to take concerns about issues at any of the halls of residence to the staff at Accommodation Services.

“The University is reliant on receiving feedback from the residents and for the management company to inform us of any serious issues and until the recent publicity we were not aware of the level of dissatisfaction amongst residents.”

Earlier this year, Salient reported that asbestos was found on the ninth floor of Cumberland. While residents were reportedly at no risk and the asbestos was removed, the floor has remained empty all year.

A sewerage pipe burst of the fifth floor of Cumberland, also reported by Salient, caused extensive disruption for residents. While some residents were relocated, work to repair the damage continued for several days, affecting residents’ study and sleep.

Campus Living Villages New Zealand General Manager Janet Thompson did not return Salient’s calls.

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Comments (1)

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  1. Thuy says:

    I know someone living at McKenzie’s. I was at Unicol in Otago in first year. It has a reputation of not being the nicest hall but the facilities far outweigh those at the Unicomm accommodation.

    The website still says the students have access to the “computer suite” that is non existent. That and many other factors were considered to be benefits of the place before she moved in and there was no mention of the renovations.

    The price per week is significantly higher than hostels in Dunedin where the staff go out of there way to help students eg. supplying tutors and care packages at exam time. This is the sort of care that people expect when they pay that much for their children to live in a hostel. For less money we got a gym, two computer suites, free tutoring, bed linen delivered weekly, free use of washing and drying machines, milk delivered daily, a tv on each floor etc etc, these are all things that unicomm fails to offer. They have take their washing down from their floor, across the road, into another building and then pay $2 for each load! They have an oven and not a microwave??? The Otago Uni Students association would have made a big fuss about it ages ago and I hope Otago Uni would not let their students go through this!

    The $1000 requested refund is just a little chunk out of the massive amount of profit this Australian corporate is making from these poor students.

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