On a sunny post-Labor Day afternoon, Simone Berkower ’09 parted the curtains behind the treadmill in her room, turned the air conditioner on maximum power and sat back against the five pillows on her queen-size bed, freshly showered and dressed in summer garb. On a television nearby, pristine scenes of waterfalls and flower petals accompanied a hazy soprano voice.
“The relaxation channel is my favorite,” she said. “I’ve taken so many naps to this.”
While summer vacation has ended for most Yale students, Berkower and 14 other girls, dubbed the “Omni 15,” are lounging in their temporary home at the four-star Omni Hotel on Temple Street.
With construction delayed at their planned residences in Weir Hall of Jonathan Edwards College and no campus housing available, four juniors, eleven seniors and one resident graduate fellow are expected to live at the hotel until they move into their suites on Sept. 20, when construction is anticipated to end. But as members of Omni’s Select Guest Program, along with other perks provided by JE — like weekday breakfasts on the top floor of the hotel — the girls are not that excited about getting back on campus.
“It feels like I’m on vacation,” said Marisol Ryu ’10, who lives in a single room now, but will move into a double when she returns to JE.
Listing treats such as complimentary wake-up calls and chocolate mints on her pillow after maid service every morning, Ryu said she was glad to be away from JE as her peers adjust to potential complications that could arise in a newly renovated college.
“It’ll take some weeks for those glitches to get sorted out,” she said.
Weir Hall construction was delayed when construction workers unexpectedly hit a rock while digging. Berkower, who is president of JE College Council, said JE does not have the hall’s original floor plans as it does for other JE facilities because, it is rumored among students, the hall was originally owned by Skull and Bones.
In addition to the Omni 15, other members of the college are affected by the construction, since Weir Hall also houses three graduate affiliate rooms, five faculty offices, tutor rooms and other spaces such as seminar rooms and the library. As a result, JE Master Gary Haller said, graduate affiliates, tutors, and faculty members have been given temporary offices in a nearby apartment or at 35 Broadway, which houses other University facilities, including the Off-Broadway Theater.
“These spaces will become available to us in sequence,” Haller said. And when it is time for the students to move out of the Omni, he said the moving company that the college relies on for storage will help move students’ belongings back to York and High streets.
Meanwhile, Ryu said she has been taking advantage of her displacement by inviting her friends to her hotel room, working out at the hotel gym on the third floor, watching HBO and getting a daily delivery with a personalized selection of beverages and a newspaper. In addition, more than half of the students have two twin beds in their rooms, which some of the students use to host their friends. Room service is not included, but some of the students said they plan to order it at least once before the end of their stay.
Many of the luxuries that they are enjoying are offered to members of the Omni’s Membership Reward Program, which is designed for business travelers, Sales Manager Kenneth Gribbon said. In addition, he said, the hotel is coordinating with Yale to provide JE students laundry services and a free shuttle to the hotel.
Despite a widespread belief that JE is paying for the Omni accommodations and amenities, Haller said the actual cost of the rooms and most of their services were arranged through Yale construction management and are ultimately funded by the University.
“I’m confident they’re getting the amenities they would have at the college,” he said.
BARS, BIRTHDAYS, BUSES — BETTER?
Haller said he wants to ensure that the experience is “not worse — if possible, better” than living in renovated JE. For example, he said, each of the girls have a single room in the hotel since most of them would have a single room in Weir Hall. Likewise, Berkower said her 21-meals-per-week plan has been put on hold for another plan — 14 dining hall meals a week, extra flex dollars and weekday breakfasts at the Omni — to ensure that the students feel like a part of the Yale community while making meals as convenient as possible.
Still, Berkower said, given the comforts of their temporary home, they “have to resist the temptation to stay in.”
“I hasten to say that room service and mini bar are not our ticket,” Haller said. “But we are making other provisions.”
Along with the option of the shuttle bus, Haller said an officer dedicated to JE from Yale Security is on call to escort the girls to and from the Omni in the evening until 2 a.m.
But Berkower said she and her friends have not called for an escort yet. Instead, fellow JE friend Yoojin Cheong ’09 said they simply “buddy up” when they leave the hotel in the evening. Lita Tandon ’10, whose friend Rachel Flynn ’09 is staying at the Omni, said she and a group of friends celebrated Flynn’s 21st birthday with a sleepover at the hotel. While the Omni is located outside the Yale bubble, Tandon said she felt comfortable walking with others to the hotel late Sunday evening.
“If there weren’t lots of people out on a weeknight, I might be scared,” Tandon said.
Although they are missing out on some college suite parties, seniors Berkower and Cheong said their nightlife was improved, especially since they are now 21.
“We’re really close to all the bars,” Berkower said. “It’s been two weeks and I’ve already memorized the Hot T’s drink menu,” referring to Hot Tomato’s, a restaurant-bar near the Omni.
But despite being close to New Haven’s vibrant night scene, the two agreed it is inconvenient to be far, relatively speaking, from Yale classroom buildings, dining halls and libraries. Although they said the Omni is only two blocks from campus, Berkower said the “far-away thing is the hardest factor.” Besides that, Cheong added, they now miss gathering in common room spaces, even though the students are all in rooms on the same floor in the hotel.
“Having everything right there and having everyone right there [in JE] is nice,” Berkower said.
But ultimately, JE cannot compete with perks such as free apples and water in the gym and candy and lemonade available in the lobby.
“It’s going to be weird to go back,” Cheong said.
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