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Green house falls to progress

Rollins College to tear down eco-friendly student house to make way for new science center

Photo: Barry Kirsch, License: N/A

Barry Kirsch

On a recent Tuesday, Rollins College senior Kristin Urban sent a text message to her six roommates that said: “Emergency house meeting.”

They gathered on the first floor of their alternative dorm, the Mowbray House, a roomy, two-story residence for eco-minded students and the crown jewel of the environmental movement on campus.

Urban explained that as the college preps for its $28 million renovation of the Archibald Granville Bush Science Center, set to open in fall 2013, construction realities mean space is needed for temporary science labs and classrooms. The Mowbray House is in the way. Right after graduation this year, it’s coming down.

“I think there were like five seconds of silence, and people just looked so upset. It’s a strong sense of community, and Mowbray was family,” Urban, 21, says. “When I told them the news, it was like taking away a friend.”

The living arrangement in the 2,800-square-foot structure, which overlooks Lake Virginia on the east side of campus, is fairly new. Students with the campus group Eco-Rollins took over Mowbray in 2010, and at least 15 of them have since spent semesters in the house. The typical dorm experience it is not. Residents make their own organic soap, tend flower beds, grow their own vegetables and spices. Leftover scraps of food get fed to a colony of red earthworms, which mingle inside a dirt-and-newspaper- filled garbage can near the television.

Occupants past and present say administrators made it clear when they took up residence there that the house was not a priority amid the overall construction blueprint, but they held out hope that an alternative could be found, or that the school would delay the demolition for several years. Using school funding, the students who lived there have invested their time and sweat equity into making it what it is today.

“We put so much work into it. We did a whole bunch of remodeling stuff outside. We did a lot of work into moving the gardens, putting in the planting bed. We just did the whole thing on our own,” says Theresa Chu, 23, who lived there from 2010-2011 and is now a graduate student at the University of South Florida.

Chu says she’s confident Eco-Rollins will find a new residence, but it might not have the same distinct presence as Mowbray, a freestanding, laid-back place with a welcoming vibe.

Shan Kasal, a 21-year-old junior, is finishing up his second academic year as a Mowbray resident. He expected to live there again as a senior.

“Once we got it, we figured we’d have it a bit longer than two years. Coming at the end of the year is kind of a surprise. They haven’t even talked with us about setting up a new area to live in,” says Kasal, who is majoring in biochemistry and marine biology. “The biggest thing was, I kind of felt betrayed.”

College administrators, however, have no second thoughts about razing the property, bequeathed to the school by a former student in 1958. They argue that in addition to the need for construction space, removing the wood-built home has environmental benefits.

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