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The Issue of Noise Reduction

As readers peruse this article, there is an inane chatter hovering over the Menlo campus, as people shout in PattersonÕs crowded halls, as students holler across the courtyard from Menlo Hall to the Math building, as cars screech in the parking lot, as doors slam on science buildings, as computers hum in offices. The buildings at Menlo are not engineered for as large a student population as we have today, and one of the central problems the school faces is simply this: noise.

Take, for example, the brand-new Student Center. It is almost as if the beautiful white building was engineered to resound. Even the smallest tap on a tabletop causes a crash throughout the room, and a whisper in one corner can often be heard in other corners of the building. When the doors open and shut, the sound is sometimes great enough to overpower the microphone. At a recent JCL meeting, when the officers had the microphone, the noise around them made communication impossible. Every crash, every bang as books hit the floor, every tap of a pencil or a card or a penny or any other thing belonging to a man, causes concentration to cease further -- until some students, trying to think clearly, must exit (with a decided crash as the door slams shut).

And then there are the tiny rooms in the rest of the school. In Menlo Hall, the sound from the street or from the courtyard wafts in through the windows, which must be left open so the air does not stifle. In Patterson and Curtis, the walls are so thin, and the doors so short of padding, that sound from every classroom filters in, and through the open windows and the doorway, all the sound effects of movies played down the hall invade, making concentration an impossibility. And in the math building, the air vents are badly engineered such that sound can come in that way, as well as through the windows, and the floors and ceilings creak and the chairs squeak, so that the resulting cacophony is reminiscent of BoschÕs Hell Wing.

And so I must call for some small degree of silence at Menlo. There are several ways in which the sound situation might be improved. First and foremost, the technology of the buildings must be brought to a reasonable level. Padding on doors and perhaps some carpeting would reduce noise levels in most of Patterson, and probably Menlo and the science/math complex as well. The sound situation for speakers could be greatly improved if a building were fitted out for use by large assemblies. Second, the administration should use the sound system more reasonably. To date, speakers in the Student Center have not understood the central aspect of sound in that room: the echo. Since echoes are so pre'minent, speaking should be slow, and of a relatively constant volume and tone, but free of generous pauses. The volume on the microphone should be set such that echoes do not obscure words as they are said; the volume control in general, both for speaking, and for music (in this case, quite fittingly categorized with noise) which occasionally issues forth, should be kept lower so as to minimize interference and to avoid damning students to later lives with hearing aids. Finally, students should make an effort to curtail loud noises. The incessant rumble of voices in the courtyards of Menlo could be easily reduced with a simple agreement not to yell; a prohibition (enforced, of course . . . something the administration of this school has consistently failed) against loud noises in hallways, or even a prohibition against anything over a whisper, might eliminate many of the problems faced by test-takers and teachers alike.


This page created for The Subterranean Crusader by John W. Earl. Last modified January 28, 1996.