King's residence lounge laid bare

Fire safety inspection required removal of all furniture in Angel's Roost

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Resident Anders Jorgen watches TV sitting on the floor because of the university's minimalistic approach for the common room in Angel's Roost. Photo: Lindsay Morey

What's a living room without furniture? A social drag.

Students who live in the University of King's College's senior residence called the Angel's Roost this year have a common room with nothing in it. The administration removed the furniture and enclosed the skylight this summer.

The move followed a report by a fire safety consultant in preparation for an inspection in early October by the Halifax Regional Municipality's Fire Office. Now there is nowhere to hang out.

Second-year arts student Anders Jorgen says he chose to live in Angel's Roost because of the nice lounge and the cupola. However, he never got the chance to enjoy natural sunlight or serene moonlight. When he first saw the dry-walled copula he was taken aback.

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Angel's Roost resident Anders Jorgen sighs as he looks at the enclosed cupola. Photo: Lindsay Morey

"A bit of wind was knocked out of my sails," he said. Now Anders spends only split seconds walking in and out of the large common area, which joins two wings of six rooms each and is the only passage to the residence's washrooms and the staircase exit.

He says it's harder to spend time with fellow residents, "You can't casually socialize by plopping yourself in a couch," he said. "Now you have to go knock on someone's door and intentionally set out to socialize."

Dean of Residence Nicholas Hatt says the furniture was seen as a fire hazard according to the university's fire safety plan because the common room is also an exit and the cupola skylight was sealed off to create a fire separation.

In the past, the common room was the social pulse. It was a place where students not only studied but relaxed. They held parties, played board games and rearranged the couches for movie nights.

Former Roost resident David Burke says he barely spent any time in his own room.

"I think it's a real shame because it was the heart of the Roost. Everything we did centered around the common area. Now it looks sterile like a hospital waiting room."

Another past resident, Melissa Tobin, says the common room plays a big part in the memories that she has of her time at King's. When she saw pictures of what it looks like now, she said it's nothing like what she remembers,

"What is this? It looks so depressing! It looks like a dungeon! You need somewhere to relax," Tobin said, "This is breaking my heart right now! It was home."

A King's tradition: a balancing act with fire codes

Hatt says the university is working with a fire consultant to see if they can get the heart of the Roost functioning again socially. He hopes to restore the room and to get new and better furniture.

However, it's unknown if there's appropriate furniture that will meet the fire regulations. For this year, at least, new furniture is unlikely due to budget constraints. Hatt says, "There are more pressing needs elsewhere on campus but it's on the list."

The Arts and Administration building was constructed in 1929 and 12 maids were housed on the top floor. In 1960, this floor became known as the Angel's Roost and was designated as a residence for students. The Roost has a long standing history with fire regulation issues which dates back to the mid 1960s. In September 2010, the university pleaded guilty to violating the HRM by-law fire codes which directly relates to its lack of fire separations. King's was fined and is on two-year probation.

The university is working on a two-year plan to find a balance between its old buildings and modern fire codes.

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