To members of the Zoe Bayliss Co-Op, 915 W Johnson St. is more than just affordable living. It has been their home and residential community for over 67 years.
Last Friday, current residents of Bayliss hosted a fundraiser to support their move to a new location while also protesting the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s decision to tear down historical landmarks.
Levy Hall, the UW-Madison’s new College of Letters & Sciences hub on Johnson St., starts construction at the beginning of 2023. It will replace some of the area currently occupied by Bayliss. The new facility aims to replace the current industrial nature of Mosse Humanities Building with 1,900 seats and 19 “state-of-the art” classrooms.
With nearly two-thirds of all undergraduate credit hours taken in the College of L&S, this new space is meant to provide an area that will maximize collaboration by garnering support from instructors and peers for the optimal educational experience, according to UW News.
Mosse hosts many L&S classes, but it is consistently unable to adjust to modern technology necessary in classrooms. The campus building is slowly deteriorating from issues like water damage, concrete deterioration, exposed, rusty reinforced steel and leaking windows. To restore these systems is “conservatively estimated at $70 million,” according to the university. Any investments to improve conditions would result in Mosse remaining in substandard condition in conjunction with the building code.
Levy Hall will be funded with commitments of $60 million from the Wisconsin State Legislature and Governor Evers, $35 million in gifts and an additional $20 million from longtime donors to UW-Madison, the Levy Family. An additional $15 million must be raised to fund the complete project.
The $130 million is not the only expense present. The creation of Levy Hall brings the demolition of residential communities Susan B. Davis Hall and Zoe Bayliss Co-Op. Up by 15.7% of enrolled freshman from the 2021-2022 school year, the UW Housing is forced to address overflow issues to accommodate all of its students that choose to live in residential halls for the upcoming school year.
Co-operative housing provides environments where students can live on-campus affordably by working as a cohesive unit to maintain the upkeep of cleanliness, meal preparation and other household needs.
“It’s a very unified community of people that you don’t get anywhere else,” current Zoe Bayliss Vice President Ishita Arora expressed. “You feel a sense of agency over your building when you have all your duties laid out because you want to take care of your family.”
The fundraiser started with a communal gathering, where residents sold an assortment of baked goods, pins, stickers and T-shirts to support those affected by the anticipated displacement. Current officers, residents and other speakers then described their experiences in the co-op, as well as their frustrations with UW-Madison’s promising words, but unfulfilled actions.
“Profit margins are more important than our needs for affordable housing. Our needs for safe, healthy housing,” District 8 Alder Juliana Bennet passionately voiced to the crowd.
UW Housing and Zoe Bayliss had multiple discussions about new arrangements and relocations for when Bayliss’ contract expires after this upcoming school year.
UW Housing recently offered a new space in Phillips Residence Hall that would be transformed into a co-op setting. Brendon Dybdahl, the University Housing Director of Marketing & Communications, said that “residents would be responsible for their own cleaning and community functions, and residents would continue to employ their own chef to prepare meals.”
University housing will move forward with the plan to make this new co-op space despite Bayliss’ response.
Ultimately, Zoe Bayliss took a vote and unanimously declined that offer.
“The University did not take into account all of our needs,” said President Sara Hartke of Bayliss. Phillips residence hall would only have space for 34 people and Bayliss already has 40 people signed with plans to sign potentially eight more.
Hartke inferred that the rent increase is about $20,000 more, which “loses the entire affordability aspect.”
The university conversely claims that, “the new community would offer a twelve-month lease and cost residents less per month than their current Zoe Bayliss Co-Op rate.”
Certain tensions arose between UW Housing and Bayliss as many speeches at the event criticized the university’s decisions and disregard for students of low-income backgrounds.
“Honestly, UW still has the power to not tear down our building,” Hartke said. “They fully could choose to leave our building where it is and change the plans that they’ve made. They fully have that in their power, they just need the will and want to do it.”
The university stands firm in its plan to tear down the building. Within the campus statement, housing noted that Bayliss “residents are free to decline the proposal, but UW-Madison does not have plans or an obligation to provide other alternative housing options for this group of students,” implying that the offer to Bayliss is a courtesy act and that demolishing an affordable housing community full of history is meaningless.
“The building has survived many erosive natural forces, but I don’t think it can endure the Financial Forces from The University,” said 1977 Bayliss resident Paulette Veloon in an email addressing current Bayliss residents.
Bayliss surpassed their $1,000 goal by fundraising $1,200 in total. $1,000 will be matched by RISE.
“Zoe Bayliss was just a place to live affordably while going to school,” said Angela Maloney, moving coordinator and former president. “But almost more so than that, I found a community of people that are able to support me and it’s kind of like a second family.”
Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:36 a.m. on Friday, May 6, 2022, to correctly reflect that the University of Wisconsin-Madison, not UW Housing, is going forward with the construction of Levy Hall and the demolition of the Zoe Bayliss Cooperative at its current location.