The Second-Class Citizen at Cal State LA

King Hall: A Building With a Long History and Problems to Boot

Walking through King Hall is a bit like strolling through a museum. It is a wonder that the 57-year-old walls still hold strong (probably just courtesy of the asbestos).

For years, students and faculty sat compliantly in classrooms and offices, keeping their minds off the unnerving reality that their classrooms and offices belonged to a bygone era of hazardous construction materials. But, as tiles fall off ceilings and elevators break down in such a frequent manner that their ADA-violating absence has become part of the social fabric of student life, it is only a matter of time before the whole space becomes red-tagged.

Last semester, I took a senior seminar in the basement floor of King Hall, in a room adjacent the Anna Bing Arnold Children’s Center. For a while, the most eventful class interruption would be the occasional wail from a homesick toddler, screaming for his mom as our professor adjusted his volume in vain. That was, until a student raised her voice one day during a lecture and pointed to the ceiling.

Looming precariously over the head of an unsuspecting girl in the front row, like a deadly augur, was a ceiling tile one touch away from breaking. The only thing saving the girl from being buried was a single ceiling-washer.

King Hall is a giant palimpsest, it is problems covered, but never solved. When tiles fell off the roof four years ago, returning students found washer-studded ceilings in the Fall. When elevators break down, mechanical replacements are ordered, but a more effective universal renovation remains unfunded.

King Hall is far down on the priority list of Cal State LA facility improvements. Renovations to the space come only after attention is paid to the physical sciences, administration and JFK library. How sadly ironic that a building named in honor of a civil rights leader be relegated to that of a second-class citizen?

Not only is the building one of Cal State LA’s busiest, it is also home to several departments, including Chicano/a studies, Education, Political Science, Anthropology, Psychology and History. Students and teachers cannot be expected to learn and teach in a space stuffed with ACM (Asbestos-Containing-Materials). Sure, Risk Management may be right that these materials pose no immediate threat when left undisturbed. But falling ceiling tiles and leaky roofs are surely no consolation for King Hall denizens.

In recent months, the Cal State LA Student Book Exchange on Facebook has seen a list of complaints from students and faculty as long as a Costco receipt, protesting the perennial elevator renovation. Michael Rodriguez, Assistant Director of Facilities Services, reported that the completion date would be Feb. 28, yet the unsightly brown barricades still stand on every floor.

That is not to mention the obscenely long lines for the women’s restroom that so often snake down hallways, setting back students and teachers upwards of twenty minutes behind schedule. Those lucky enough to relieve themselves before class have reported stalls that do not close properly and overcrowded, dirty conditions far beyond the purview of maintenance staff of limited means.

If Cal State LA wants to continue attracting a diverse body of ambitious students and world-class faculty, it needs to start looking the part. If it wants to cultivate the leaders of tomorrow, its buildings cannot remain mired in the past.

Of course, there is no easy or inexpensive fix. A complete renovation may not be in the best interest of Cal State LA’s budget, but the people of King Hall are pleading for a reprieve. One can only hope administration will answer their call.