Older dorm ovens fail to meet state regulations

Although three of the dormitories had ovens which did not meet regulations because they had no exhaust systems, some buildings were permitted to retain their ovens through a grandfather clause. The clause states that all existing stoves with any exhaust fan system may continue to operate until the condition of the system deteriorates.

Moore Dormitory, Newport House, Humphries House, Porter House, Garman House, Tyler House, Plimpton house, Marsh House, Drew house, Cohan Dormitory and Chapman Dormitory all retained their ovens. “We will operate ‘grandfathered’ stoves until their condition worsens and then they will be replaced with microwaves,” said Special Services Coordinator Stan Adams.

According to Rick Mears, the environmental health and safety officer at the College, the ovens were removed after the buildings’ annual inspection. “The town building inspector was going through Hitchcock during our annual inspection and noted the stove without a hood,” he said. “He, as is correct, informed the College that the hood with suppression system must be installed, or the stove removed.”

Massachusetts state regulation has classified dorm stoves as commercial cooking equipment. They have to comply with the same safety standards as the ovens in a restaurant. The state requires that all commercial ovens consist of a full hood exhaust and fire suppression system.

“These systems are very difficult to install, and must be exhausted up through the building to a separate fan unit on the roof, which is next to impossible for our older buildings,” explained Mears. “That regulatory requirement would also mandate that the College have a service point on the roof for mechanical equipment, built in fall protection, a guard rail system and special lighting for maintenance purposes, and various other requirements.”

College officials chose to remove the ovens because upgrading the exhaust systems is too difficult. This move was met with resistance from many students living in those dorms during the summer. The summer residents relied upon the removed stoves and ovens to prepare food because summer residents do not receive meal-plan benefits at Valentine Dining Hall.

Residents were particularly disturbed because their housing contracts stated that they would have access to a stove and oven in order to prepare their own food at little cost. However, after removing the ovens, the College failed to offer residents an alternative to the stoves, providing them with only a microwave. Students were largely forced to pay to eat out or at Valentine.

“I was really disappointed with the way the whole process of removing the oven went,” said Jason Merrill ’06, who lived in Hitchcock during the summer. “They brought in a microwave oven, but a microwave doesn’t replace a stovetop. Housing services also told us they would look into finding other nearby buildings that we could use to cook. They never got back to us about that.”

According to Mears, the new dormitories on campus will not be equipped with any stoves. “All new residence halls will be equipped with microwaves and refrigerators only, so stoves are an appliance of the past, not to be replaced,” said Mears.

Merrill’s experiences this summer have led him to believe that permanently removing stoves and ovens is a mistake on the part of the College. “When they took the stoves away, people went out and bought hot-plates and electric woks,” said Merrill. “By getting rid of stoves in the dorms, it is likely that the College will send students interested in cooking out of the kitchen and back to their rooms to use illegal cooking devices, which are harder to use and more dangerous to have than a stove in the dorm.”