New College is relatively young, but in such a short time there have been many traditions developed and events that are part of the folk history of the place.
In this type of environment our residents will often attempt the unusual or suggest the outrageous. So when the Dean of Residents, James Pietsch received a letter from Stephen Gilmour in February 2004 during the construction of the 4th floor suggesting that he be honoured in a specific way, he wasn’t surprised.
"Dear Mr Pietsch, As you might know, I was a resident in New College last year with my home being 2D8 (the courtyard room). I spent much time while at New College to make that room mine, and to leave a bit of myself within. It has come to my attention that the room, 2D8 is no longer in operation. Instead an elevator has been installed and I would like to lodge a formal complaint. I would like to make a proposal (See Figure 1.2) which might prevent myself from taking legal action on the college for emotional damages (loss of door), and for the deprivation of other students to experience the “Gilly” legacy. I propose that the new elevator (pun not intended), be named after myself, Gilly. Hence the plaque on the elevator should say the “Gilly’s legacy .”
The Dean responded immediately:
We will do whatever we can to appease you given the severity of the offense and the amount of distress that the current situation must be causing to yourself who has every reason to feel deeply aggrieved… Certainly there is a historical precedent of such actions causing grief in times past in which the concerned parties were not fully consulted before action was taken – the invasion of Kuwait, the land distribution in Soviet Russia, the merging of Tanganyika and Zanzibar to form Tanzania and the removal of the stocks from the New College courtyard to name but a few. It is my intention to see that responsibility for such actions cannot in the future be laid at the feet of myself, nor the administration which has served this community so faithfully. I hope that this situation can be resolved amicably in the near future.
Mr Gilmour was NOT happy. He replied:
I am writing for the second and last time in regards to the “Gilly’s Elevator” proposal. Owing to the lack of action on your part in implementing this proposal, I have taken it upon myself to gain support. If you would kindly take note of the attached petition (and it’s 40 signatures), you will see how important the proposal is. Not only to me as the victim, but to the college as a wider community.
In starting his petition Mr Gilmour had also developed two proposals for consideration. As it turned out there was a third letter with yet more demands and detailed proposals for how the 2nd floor might actually be called floor Gilly – it was ignored.
The Dean and I tried a counter proposal that would have involved a small plaque on the northern side of the elevator shaft (inside the shaft!), but he was on to us and rejected it out of hand.
Eventually, we gave in to Mr Gilmour’s audacious plan and at a formal dinner we asked him to unveil a plaque to mark the decision.
And it read:
This elevator is officially dedicated to all past residents of 1D8, 2D8 & 3D8. The name “Gilly” has been chosen for no good reason. Rather, it is a consequence of the initiative and tenaciousness of one Collegian – Stephen Gilmour, the last occupant of 2D8. This elevator now bears his sobriquet (So-bri-kay).
The Fourth Floor
Alumni of New College will probably recall there were rumours of a proposed extra floor for the College for at least 15 years prior to its construction. By the time Professor Trevor Cairney was appointed Master in August 2002, a total of three development plans had been brought forth by three different masters, the most recent forecasting a cost of $14 million and proposing 20 fewer rooms.
On each occasion progress did not move beyond initial concept plans, prompting Trevor Cairney to go back to the drawing board one last time. He promised the New College Board that within six months of his appointment he would present a recommendation to either ‘do something about the building – or nothing’.
“I made no promises about the potential ‘something’,” said Trevor, “but suggested that with further design work, costing and budget planning we could reach a point at which we could decide if major refurbishment was feasible.”
Today, the shiny glass façade and spacious fourth floor rooms are a clear indication that ‘something’ was more than feasible. At an extraordinary meeting in late November 2003 the New College Board approved expenditure of $5.67 million under a business plan that required the College to use most of its reserves and seek finance for the balance of the projected cost.
While most work commenced on 4 December 2003 when the majority of residents left for the summer vacation, the Board boldly committed to the design and development of an elevator two months earlier, allowing jackhammers to break through the College ground floor in the October mid-semester break for the construction of a shaft.
New College has definitely changed. The building plan has seen the construction of the much talked about fourth floor which was driven by a desire to maintain the same group-based design concept as levels 1 to 3, albeit with larger and more diverse rooms that accommodated special needs. The new floor contains 24 regular rooms that are larger than previous rooms, two residential adviser flats, six disabled access rooms, five ensuite rooms and two meeting rooms.
The redevelopment also included the installation of an elevator that allows disabled access and a long-overdue means of transporting linen and equipment for cleaning and maintenance staff. D8 rooms have disappeared down the elevator shaft and D7 rooms have suddenly become larger.
Further aspects of the redevelopment tie functionality in with the aesthetic of the building. All 24 bathrooms throughout the College have undergone complete refurbishment; the College now showcases new automatic entry doors at the front and rear; the resource room has been rebuilt with a glass wall overlooking the Village Green; a new disabled toilet has been built on the ground floor; fire safety upgrades and enhanced compliance with Building Council Australia regulations have been implemented. Glass facades have been fitted to all four sides of the building to create an attractive external aesthetic and approximately 30 rooms acquired internal cosmetic updates including window seats .
At initial planning stage in 2003, Trevor formed a partnership with PMDL Architecture and Design Pty Ltd, the architects of the latest master plan, and the University’s Capital Development branch. ProBuild was chosen as the construction contractor and the design was based on five basic principles: it needed to cost less than $6 million in the first stage; the enhanced building would need to contain more, not fewer, rooms; the construction needed to take place with no room vacancies and minimal disruption to residential life; construction needed to occur primarily in the Christmas break; redevelopment had to be packaged in stages to accommodate students and allow revenue raising in between stages; and all residents needed to enjoy some benefit from the project .
“Everyone who has lived at New College knows it is a wonderful institution but the physical fabric of the building has both strengths and limitations,” said Trevor. “The greatest strength of the building has always been its unique group design which fosters interaction between residents and facilitates the first pillar of the College’s mission statement: collegiality.”
But the building’s limitations were broad, Trevor pointed out. Its interior was dated, the bathrooms were 35 years old, it provided a uniform standard of accommodation in an age when people were looking for options such as ensuite amenities, it lacked disabled access, it required upgrades in fire safety and it had limited communal space for meetings, seminars, tutorials and study.
“New College is still the college of choice on campus and turns away many people each year,” said Trevor. “The standard of accommodation prior to the refurbishment was equal to or better than other college accommodation on campus, but as competition increases in the accommodation sector on and off campus, it’s important for the College to upgrade.”