Anyone who enters the former nurses flat on the Annadal complex, will receive a friendly greeting from the builders. “Don't fall over the materials.” This person is sanding and painting, another is putting up shower units like you would see on a campsite.
Lois Lane is blaring in the stairwell, dust is settling everywhere. The cleaning crew works here every day, says a woman while she wipes down the stairs with a damp cloth. “But you just can't keep up with the dirt.” On the top floor, footprints in the dust lead us to the living room. When we ask if we could go out onto the balcony to view the city from ‘above’, the students shake their heads. “All doors and windows are locked.” Too dangerous, says Maurice Evers, head of the UM's student housing department. The latest building regulations require higher railings and fewer openings. We cannot afford to make it more accessible.” In the first week – when not all doors were locked yet – students were drinking beer outside in the evening and the first complaints from residents in the surrounding area were coming in.
People living in the neighbourhood have now lodged an official complaint with the city council. They wonder how it was possible that the authorities opted for additional accommodation in a residential area because of “pressure of time and financial considerations. Surely it cannot be right that the problem is then shifted to those who live close by.”
The fact that because of security reasons no window can be opened is disappointing for the students. “A door to the balcony was included on the drawings of Maastricht Housing. Well, then you assume that it can be opened,” says Danish law student Zana van Schayk (“my mother is Dutch”). Air only comes into the rooms through ventilation vents.” And they don't work, two fellow inhabitants add. “If one person gets sick, everyone will follow,” Canadian law student Joan Duhaylungsod reckons.
Despite the trials and tribulations there are also a few advantages: it is “a fun floor with a lot of nationalities, the location is good, and the view is beautiful”.
They knew that the building was being renovated. With the emphasis on “was”. The report that work was still going on and the apologies from the Guesthouse that rents out the rooms came as a surprise. “A couple of days before our arrival on Friday, 31 August we received an e-mail with a status update.” On top of everything else, things also went wrong on the Friday itself. Students had to wait for hours before they could move into their rooms. The city authorities were to release the buildings that day, but decided against it, says Evers. “The rooms were declared unfit. Door springs on doors leading to escape routes were not in place everywhere. Of the utmost importance and necessary, so that had to be arranged very quickly,” says Evers. Students were finally allowed to enter the building at nine o'clock in the evening.
A pig sty
The main problem, says Canadian master's student of Legal Psychology Sam van Drunen, is that her complaints are not being heard. She feels dizzy from “something smelling like acetone”. She points to a grey pipe beside the washbasin. “I have sent an e-mail, walked to the reception, nobody is doing anything about it.”
On the seventh floor, Tunisian Omar Ben-Mansour, first-year student of Biomedical Sciences, takes a bite of his pizza. The renovations don't seem to bother him. “It’s all part of the life of a student.”
Two women from the cleaning crew are waiting for the lift. They wonder how it is possible that the students can be “so messy”. “A pig sty. They leave empty bottles lying around everywhere, place hot saucepans on the kitchen surfaces – which then blister from the heat – use cleaning agents that cause white marks around the washbasin. I can't get that clean. And that is a brand-new kitchen!”
Asked whether any students have already left, Evers says: “No, but there are two Vietnamese guys who find their room too small. As far as I know, they haven't found anything else yet.” Neither the trio on the tenth floor, nor a Ghanaian master's student in the lower building are considering moving. “I don't feel like looking for another room, it would take too much time,” they said. “And try finding a place that is furnished for 345 euro all-in,” replies the Ghanaian.