College facilities suffer wear and tear at slightly higher level than normal

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The College Facilities department has been kept busy this academic year dealing with both incidental and student damage to the physical plant. While for the most part each incident has only affected a very small portion of the student body, the College has had to fix problems in spots ranging from the roof of Sharples to lampposts on Magill Walk.

According to Ralph Thayer of the Facilities department, “each year brings a mix of damages from vandalism and accidents as well as routine repairs.” This year the College lost five decorative lamp posts on Magill Walk due to vandalism–and then lost another between Parrish and Clothier when the driver of a golf cart lost visibility in the sun and knocked the post down. The loss of so many posts has left the College without any additional replacements and, since that model of post is no longer manufactured, Thayer estimated it would cost $4,000 to replace additional poles and fixtures.

Students living in Willets dealt with what appeared to be more vandalism last week, when a window in Mephistos Lounge was smashed following Election Day festivities. Thayer estimated the window replacement at $860.

Other dorm incidents inconvenienced students in minor ways. Students in Whittier Place complained of a lack of heat which resulted in Facilities staff moving the thermostat to “a central location that better modeled the building’s needs” according to Thayer. Parrish residents, the students most directly affected by construction, sometimes did not have hot water or heat on demand pending installation of pipes to bypass the construction. Thayer wrote that all problems should be solved, though “areas adjacent to the construction may experience drafts from the open areas.”

Students living in the plush New Dorm encountered a small shock recently when standing water appeared on dorm room floors. Thayer explained that the drain system from the air conditioning in each room is connected to a larger rain water drain system that helps avoid sending too much extra water into the sewer. The precipitation drain was clogged and during heavy rain last Thursday night a backup occurred that sent water to the next lowest point of entry to the system, which was several dorm rooms. Thayer noted that the pipe had been cleared to prevent further problems and that the general contractor for the building had been asked to pay for damages.

Another item that has gone missing is the famous Palmer porch swing. A favorite of students waiting for the evening shuttle or just sitting to talk, RA David Luong noticed that the porch swing had disappeared one day in October and reported the incident to the authorities. The swing is still absent without leave, and according to Director of Public Safety Owen Redgrave: “there have not been any significant leads.”

Thayer noted that a big concern is students walking on the roofs of buildings. Aside from the obviously dangerous nature of this activity, Thayer explained that, for example, the roof tiles of Sharples “are fired clay which are as brittle as dinner plates if stepped on in the wrong place.” Each broken tile can cost about $75 to replace when labor is considered.
Asked how the overall level of vandalism compared to other years, Thayer wrote: “Overall, we’ve started with more vandalism than we would ordinarily see at this time of year. It’s particularly disturbing that outdoor lighting appears to be a target as they are disproportionately expensive to repair/replace and they are so important to night time security.” Thayer also noted that some would-be vandals might receive a real shock when they attempt to knock down poles: “most outdoor fixtures are rated for 480 volts, which is more than enough to deliver a lethal shock.”

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