It’s another Friday afternoon, and the Fabulous Lorenzos have again spent most of it uselessly discussing their TITE group project. They’ve been in a spare teaching room in the Psychology building. Miles had to come outside to meet them all, to show them the way to the room. You can’t ask anyone to come into the Psychology building without guidance, because they’ll go missing for days, and eventually be found crying and gibbering in a corner somewhere. Student rumour has it that the building itself was deliberately designed as a maze for the purposes of a psychology experiment, though in truth the reason why it’s a rabbit warren is that it’s been extended so many times, in very haphazard ways. It’s been due to be demolished for years now; one day it will be knocked down, but that day keeps getting put off.
Grayvington University started life in 1891 as a few departments in some office space and townhouses in the unpromising suburb of Baron Heights. This location was chosen mainly because it was on the railway line, and there were cheap places for rent, as business was not booming in Baron Heights. Some free land behind these streets was then acquired, which formed the basis for a new campus, which was christened ‘Greenwood Glade’. The first stage of the campus building works was completed in 1902, and the new campus was opened, in the absence of the Prime Minister who had to cancel at the last minute, by Larry Lorenzo, a popular local music-hall entertainer.
By 1910, at the heart of the campus there stood (as it still stands today) the magnificent Terminal Building, named in honour of Grayvington’s railway heritage, and the fact that the University is a stop on the railway line. The Terminal Building was constructed from sandstone, and was lavishly laid out inside with wide corridors, huge rooms, large windows, quality marble staircases, and superb oak and walnut parquetry floors. Unfortunately the huge expense of creating the Terminal Building meant that little money was left over for the rest of the campus, so the other buildings were hastily thrown together using the cheapest building methods of the time, with little in the way of proper design.
Greenwood Glade wasn’t large enough to encompass the inevitable expansion of the University that took place over the next century, so by the 1930’s the University was spreading out further into the dismal houses and offices of Baron Heights, as well as constructing ever-taller buildings on Greenwood Glade, whose green grass and trees have gradually disappeared as the concrete has expanded. The original campus was poorly designed, and on top of that further waves of expansion have been arranged in an even more incompetent fashion by highly-paid professionals. The current campus is a dirty, confused, higgledy-piggledy, concreted mess, an architectonic parody of a hungover student’s bedroom, with a range of the worst architectural styles from various decades on display. For instance, the soot-blackened Blake Tower, unmistakably a product of sixties campus brutalism, is flanked on one side by a rickety old house from 1920, which still serves as the campus’ increasingly outdated health clinic, and on the other by a glass-and-steel inside-out ultra-modern Science Lecture Theatre, which has only been recently completed (and which only came in at three times over budget, which isn’t bad by Grayvington standards).
Like most British Universities no provision has been made (or ever will be made) for the fact that it rains a lot in Britain, so students and lecturers are used to arriving in over-crowded lecture rooms with sopping wet umbrellas and raincoats which have nowhere to go. Ventilation is inadequate, so the rooms fog up with all the moisture, and many of the old rooms smell of mould, a smell that no commercial company has ever been able to remove.
In 1982 the University purchased, on the quiet, but to the dismay of those few academics who heard about it, the nasty old Grayvington council offices, located in the suburb of Remington. The council was selling these because it had itself purchased, at great expense, some prime office space in the city centre, in order to move the bulk of the Council’s operations closer to the Town Hall. The council had wanted to do this for years, but had never previously been able to find a sucker willing to buy their old offices in Remington, as Remington had become a desolate and difficult-to-access part of the city, due to the way various railway lines, railway bridges, and new roads had intertwined.
It was thought that the University would shift some departments to Remington, but in an unexpected move it decided to transfer most of its administration and bureaucracy there, although the Vice Chancellor retained his enormous and luxurious suite of offices in the Terminal Building. No academic departments made the move, which was a relief to those departments, but there was concern that moving the bureaucracy to its own fiefdom would create a monster. This concern would have been more widespread, but the University’s secrecy over the whole matter meant that quite a lot of academics, and almost all the students, were, and still are, unaware of the existence of the Remington campus, which perhaps gives you an idea of the usefulness of those bureaucrats. (HR, of course, is located there.)
Remington is now better known, by those who know of its existence, as ‘Canberra’. It is the scene of countless computer system disasters, and the bureaucracy has grown so much that there are now rumours that the University intends to purchase a second admin-only site. Canberra, like its Australian namesake, is not a place that anyone visits willingly, although for a while older townspeople would turn up asking about paying their council tax.
Baron Heights, meanwhile, has become, since the seventies, a place uninhabitable for anyone except undergraduates, drug addicts and petty thieves (the extensions of the last two categories greatly overlap. In fact the extensions of all three categories have been known to overlap). The civilians who previously lived there have been gradually forced out by the endless noisy parties and inconsiderate behaviour of the students. Even the lecturers who owned houses in Baron Heights due to its convenient location have mostly gone, and the grad students long ago learnt to rent elsewhere. Those who have made the mistake of hanging on for too long only stay there now because to sell up and move from Baron Heights would mean taking a considerable financial hit, as property prices there have being stagnating for decades. The only buyers are landlords who specialise in student properties, and the student property market is at the bottom of the heap because most students want cheap share houses which they don’t have to look after, so the landlords don’t bother looking after them either. And because students are bad at paying rent, there are endless disputes about who is responsible for the rent, which landlords get caught up in, so no landlord with any class or aspiration goes there.
The petty thieves like Baron Heights because students are easy prey, despite the fact that there’s usually always someone home watching daytime TV. Students are always leaving their doors unlocked, or even open, they’re often drunk or stoned, strangers are in and out of the houses all the time, the students leave valuable stuff just lying around, and they’re always losing their stuff anyway. Half the time a student has something stolen from them they don’t even realise that it’s been stolen until days, or even weeks, later. This situation will only worsen in the years ahead, as more and more students come to Grayvington with desirable and easily lifted tech, such as laptops, smartphones and iPads, although by that time some of the more well-off students will start to bypass Baron Heights and choose to live in high-end purpose-built student apartment blocks in other parts of Grayvington.