SFU needs to address how construction noise makes campus dysfunctional

While I love joking about how much of a mess this school is, noise complaints are far from petty.

Photo by Chris Ho/The Peak

Written by: Gabrielle McLaren, Features Editor

Three of my five classes are on the Burnaby campus. Twice last week, we were forced to move because of construction noises.

When I say “forced to move,” I mean that my discussion-based seminars got up and left for another space because we were simply unable to get any work done over the sound of cement being drilled in. And with everyone engaging in this mass exodus from the AQ’s construction choir, officially or unofficially relocating classrooms is frustrating and time-consuming.

In a few of our classes, we had to get creative. One professor literally brought us to Club Ilia and we split nachos and pop while talking about human rights, which sounds hilarious until you realise how ridiculous and unsustainable that is. Another professor gave us some options about how to proceed and put it to a vote, and our fourth-year seminar elected to search for another spot on campus to continue our discussion.

On both counts, professors were helpful, professional, dedicated, and attentive to the needs of students — but they shouldn’t be the only ones accommodating for the school’s noise.

I know that our school is basically a Cold War-era cement pop-up shop, and that construction is a necessity to maintain and improve our infrastructure. But that shouldn’t come at the price of students’ education. If it does, we’re losing sight of why this brutalist monstrosity crowns Burnaby Mountain in the first place.

Noise pollution has known negative effects on your health, from hypertension to anxiey. According to WorkSafe BC: “An employer must ensure that a worker is not exposed to noise levels above either of the following exposure limits: (a) 85 dBA [decibels] Lex daily noise exposure level.” Construction workers are notoriously at-risk for work-related hearing loss, not only because of long-term exposure, but also because their sites are regularly above peak limits. If the workers are subjected to this degree of noise, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the classes in the same building are going to find it disruptive.

While I wasn’t whipping out decibel meters to check the numbers during lecture (although I hear there are apps for that), our work was absolutely disrupted. Other students looked tense and uncomfortable, one of my friends whose first language wasn’t English was straining to figure out what was happening, and Advil became a hot commodity among the entire class.

I’m pretty sure that students don’t need their institution trying to nerf their performances and stressing them out furthermore. We do enough of that ourselves, thanks.

More than that, this amount of noise is also a serious accessibility problem for students with any kind of hearing impairment, migraine problems, or with anxiety disorders who may or may not be registered with the Centre for Accessible Learning. For these students, the harm from this noise can be especially harmful; having concerns about the construction on campus is not petty or whiny at this point.

It’s made more frustrating since we’re still paying around $750 for every class we take. While I don’t like thinking of my education as being reducible to its monetary worth, it feels necessary to say how much value is being ruined for us. On a basic level, if I’m going to be paying for my education like a customer, I’m comfortable pointing out that a healthy learning environment should be included in the per-credit cost of my BA. My classmates have joked about getting refunds for missed and disrupted class times, but if we’re going to put a price on education this logic isn’t crazy.

Since we’re in a system where students are customers, maybe those bright-eyed twelfth graders with post-secondary dreams should go shop elsewhere. SFU needs to do a better job of thinking of students’ needs and learning conditions when it’s scheduling construction and classes, and think logistically about how those two affect each other.