As students and faculty return to campus for in-person classes and activities this semester, Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger announced that the Mandela Room and Old Union Hall will be closed for student use, in order to accommodate for COVID-19 surveillance testing.

In a Sept. 7 B-Line News Addition, Stenger cited concerns from campus members about whether current testing was enough to contain the spread of COVID-19. In response, plans for this fall center around reintroducing the testing capacity administered last spring.

“This additional capacity will allow more students, faculty and staff to get tested to help us identify potential spikes and respond quickly to keep the campus safe,” Stenger wrote.

Testing in the Mandela Room will allow for up to 2,000 tests a week, according to B-Line. The rooms will allow asymptomatic individuals on campus to be readily tested, with appointments being made a day prior. Symptomatic students can call the Decker Student Health Services Center for testing. The surveillance program has allowed testing on a first-come, first-served basis, but is limited to once per week.

This change means the Mandela Room and Old Union Hall will be closed for events for the fall semester. Normally, student organizations are able to reserve these rooms for events. Student organizations with plans to use these rooms now have to find other accommodations.

Sakib Choudhury, the Student Association (SA) executive vice president and a senior majoring in computer engineering, acknowledged the necessity of closing the Mandela Room and Old Union Hall for COVID-19 testing, but described the drawbacks behind the decision.

“Upon hearing about the closing of the Mandela Room and Old Union Hall, it was upsetting to me because of the negative impact that it has on student organizations who have long awaited the opening of these rooms and because the news of this closing came on such short notice,” Choudhury said. “It is certainly important to create a COVID-19 testing center that can support large-scale testing for the University and that is accessible to all. However, it would be most ideal if both COVID-19 testing and student organizations could be supported in this situation.”

Choudhury also mentioned some compromises that were suggested in the meantime in order to give student organizations access to the Mandela Room and Old Union Hall.

“One idea that was suggested to administration was to open up the Mandela Room for weekend use by student organizations, when the testing center is closed,” Choudhury said. “This proposal would solve the issue for many of the clubs displaced, as most large-scale events happen on weekend evenings. As of right now, the University is still examining the feasibility of this proposal and will keep the SA updated. In addition, it is possible that the University consolidates testing into just the Old Union Hall going forward, thereby opening up the Mandela Room for reservations.”

Current negotiations to open up the Mandela Room have had some success. Peter Nardone, general manager of the Union, said that there are plans to make the room available later in the semester.

“We are currently working with the University Testing Center to consolidate all testing operations into Old Union Hall,” Nardone said. “We would then return the Mandela Room to regular service with an anticipated start date of Oct. 2.”