Last week, temporary walls were erected in Olde Club, blocking off access to the basement and balcony. This followed a report filed on April 13 by Noah Weinthal ’15, director of Swaudio, which cited an array of safety concerns about the building, concluding that “Olde Club suffers from years of chronic neglect and decay.”
Weinthal’s report noted six likely violations of Pennsylvania fire code, including insufficient emergency and exit lighting and a main stairwell that is too narrow. Weinthal’s report notes that “the current stairwell [allows] a theoretical maximum of 103 students [to be in the building] safely,” and that “[t]his occupancy has been and is often exceeded during busier parties.”
These issues were addressed last week, with the installation of new exit signs, emergency exit signs, and the sealing of the staircase to the basement.
Compounding the fire-safety concern, Weinthal identified several potential ignition risks. On one wall in the storage room in Olde Club Weinthal found, handwritten on masking tape, a notice saying “DANGER! Exposed Electrical Contacts!” with an arrow pointing down to the floor. Weinthal notes that “The storage room is packed with equipment and packaging — much of it old, dry, and paper-based. … Paper boxes rest on top of whatever the electrical hazard is.” This was all beneath a “cracked window.” In Weinthal’s estimation, “It does not take much imagination to see how a rainstorm and a trickle of water could kick up some sparks and cause a fire.”
Weinthal also reports that the lighting system is “improperly maintained.” He found a 20-pound Fresnel light fixture which he described as “literally one nudge away from falling,” hanging from a poorly-supported pipe, and not otherwise secured. The light in question “gets hot enough to cause severe burns and ignite wood and paper.”
A lighting expert, contacted by Weinthal, concluded that “the Olde Club lighting system in its current level of maintenance presents an imminent fire risk.”
At the time of printing, none of the ignition risks identified by Weinthal have been addressed.
Additionally, Weinthal noted structural damage to the stage. His report states that “[t]he cross-braces supporting the stage have in many areas fallen off or snapped, causing the frame structure underneath to deflect dangerously under load.” He assesses the stage as being in “imminent danger of collapse.” This issue has yet to be resolved.
Mike Elias, student activities coordinator, commented that “[i]t is a priority that the spaces are updated and safe for students to use in a timely manner as to prepare for regular usage once the Fall ’14 semester begins.” While this may include the renovation of Olde Club, Elias noted that “we don’t yet have a full plan outlined.”
Stu Hain, vice president for facilities and services, was contacted, but was unavailable for comment.
Thank you Noah! I am so glad you took the initiative to bring this up to the administration and get something done. I have been concerned on numerous occasions about fire-safety on this campus and how oblivious the administration is to the fire codes which have been broken many times at Swarthmore events, especially parties. We need more of this type of practicality and ability to assess risk that you have shown, Noah.