Facilities and Real Estate Services’ continual struggle to maintain quality living standards in campus buildings, publicized in a four-part series in this week’s issues of The Daily Pennsylvanian, comes as no surprise to most students living on campus.
By the time students graduate, they’ll probably have dealt with or know someone who has dealt with any one of a number of problems that plague campus housing: Plumbing issues. Heating issues. Air-conditioning issues. Mold issues. The list goes on.
The breakdown of infrastructure — as well as relations between administrators and workers — has been persistent for years, manifesting itself most recently a few weeks ago when sewage water spilled out of the ceiling in Harnwell College House’s mezzanine lounge.
These recent articles bring to light the systemic, long-term reasons for residents’ ongoing building woes: poorly planned and outdated infrastructure and management that prioritizes money-saving above all else — including student and worker safety.
As members of the Penn community, many of whom live on campus, we are dismayed that student comfort and safety seem to be so low on FRES’ list of priorities.
Strains of black mold — a fungus that poses serious health risks — were found in a room in Sansom West and, due to a breakdown in communication, took almost a week to be removed. Workers constantly spoke of disagreements with management regarding what action was sufficient to resolve certain issues — in one particularly disturbing anecdote, a worker spoke of contractors being ordered to hook sewage water that had leaked up to a nearby water fountain. Needless to say, that’s disgusting.
We find FRES’ penny-pinching with regards to these issues — which range from inconveniences (no heat) to potentially dangerous (unidentified black mold?) — unacceptable, especially since FRES actually ran a $90,000 surplus last year.
But this isn’t just on FRES. When speaking to the DP, FRES administrators like Anne Papageorge and Ken Ogawa often seemed as if they were merely trying to avoid going over the budget that the University allots them. It’s appalling that Penn — which had a budget of $3.18 billion in fiscal year 2015 — doesn’t allocate more funds toward costs that directly impact student life. Concerts in Penn Park and festivals like Skimmerfest certainly provide fun experiences for students, but are not nearly as essential to student life as upholding a decent standard of safety in our homes.
Part of the persistence of the long-term problems documented in the series lies in the fact that the buildings were flawed from the beginning, when they were installed with inefficient water ventilation systems to save money. Rather than fixing the problem — recurrent hot water shortages that defy continual attempts to fix them — by implementing a system that actually works, administrators have doubled down with band-aid solutions. What’s worse — they’re installing the same system in the New College House, which clearly indicates that the administration doesn’t care enough about students’ troubles to actually do something about them for the future.
On-campus housing struggles have gone on for too long at Penn. It’s time for FRES to clean up its mess so that students — and FRES employees — can stop suffering from its disorganization.
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