Respiratory problems, icy temperatures and flooding showers are a few of the unexpected inconveniences associated with on-campus living.
On a campus in need of millions of dollars of repairs, health and safety issues often suffer as a result of Penn Facilities and Real Estate Services' budget shortages.
Facilities has a budget of $150 million, but with a list of repairs and replacements totaling between $600 and $800 million, a significant amount of maintenance is neglected.
"It's impossible to fix every problem without all the needed financial resources," Facilities and Real Estate Services spokesman Tony Sorrentino said.
"We continue to need to generate the resources to not only renovate, but then to continue the maintenance of the renovated facilities," University President Judith Rodin said.
But at Penn, budget constraints sometimes put students' safety and well-being at risk.
@inside article header:Richards' crumbling roof
In the School of Medicine complex, next to the dozens of cigarette butts that litter the ground around the Richards Building lie several large chunks of concrete that have broken off from a section of the crumbling roof.
The problem has been occurring since at least the fall of 2003 and was reported and logged by one Facilities worker on Sept. 30, 2003, and again on Jan. 25, 2004.
The University has analyzed the problem and is set to address it in the upcoming year.
"The problem has been acknowledged, and the funding is scheduled for the next fiscal year," Sorrentino wrote in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, those who take smoking breaks in the area are at risk of being hit by the falling concrete pieces.
But building interiors as well as exteriors are in need of renovation. Electrical, heating and plumbing systems in many of campus residences are so old that their frequent malfunctions occasionally present health hazards.
These hazards -- like crumbling infrastructure, lack of heat and water and the presence of mold -- are compounded by a lack of communication between Facilities and the students the department serves.
@inside article header:Lack of heat in Gregory
In Gregory College House's Class of 1925 building, students on the south side of the first floor were without heat this winter from the start of the second semester until after spring break.
The residents said they began calling immediately after winter break -- sometimes three to five times each day -- but that it took three or four days for Facilities to respond.
"Our records indicate that we received calls from several rooms on the first floor, and we responded in order of the calls," Sorrentino wrote.
Each time workers came to fix the problem, the heat would work for about an hour afterward and then turn off again, College sophomore Alex Buznego said. In order to permanently fix the heat in the affected rooms, the heat for the entire building would have had to been shut down for two weeks, Sorrentino said.
Wharton sophomore Sal Pareja said they were all given space heaters -- but not until the end of February.
Facilities Vice President Omar Blaik said that Gregory's 40-year-old heating system "requires replacement" because over the years, the pipes have clogged. But he said that Facilities does not currently have the "resources to totally change the system."
@inside article header:Flooding in Harrison
The shower ceiling in room 813 in Harrison College House collapsed in the middle of February, flooding the apartment from the bathroom to the living room.
It was at least the third time that the water had flooded past the bathroom, Wharton sophomore Scott Hamilton said. The ceiling had been leaking all year.
The residents called Facilities almost 10 times and waited two days before any workers were sent to clean up the mess.
The residents in the apartment said that each time they called to complain about the collapsed ceiling, they had to file another report because the agents at the call center said they had no record of any previous calls.
"A work order was created ... on March 23 to repair the leak in the ceiling," Sorrentino wrote. "The repair may have been called in earlier [in February] by a student, and the repair probably went to the First Response team."
The First Response group is dispatched to examine problems within an hour of a report being filed. These mechanics respond to leaking, heating and cooling problems and also perform minor repairs.
Though Facilities still has not replaced the ceiling, the leaking has stopped.
Sorrentino said the ceiling had not been repaired yet in order to make sure that the leak was properly plugged.
Throughout the year, residents said they were never made aware of the progress of the repairs to the leak and the bathroom ceiling.
@inside article header:Mold in DuBois
Early last fall, the door to College junior Jillian McKoy's University-owned freezer in room 205 of DuBois College House fell off and began to defrost and leak. Black mold -- which can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems, including asthma and bronchitis -- began to develop around the freezer.
McKoy and her roommate complained about the black mold in their apartment for most of first semester before Facilities provided a permanent solution, which required fixing the freezer and eliminating the mold.
Many Facilities workers have said that black mold is a problem throughout the residences, particularly in showers.
For example, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported in February that mushroom-shaped mold had been growing in the shower of room 609 in Hamilton College House for about a month before the problem was solved.
Prior to the problem being resolved, the residents called Maintenance Services several times, and the mold was observed when Facilities workers fixed a leak in a seventh-floor bathroom.
More often, however, students are not even aware of the presence of mold. "Rather than address it, [Facilities workers] just cover it up" with paint or dry wall, said a worker who has been at the University for over 20 years.
McKoy said she called Facilities several times to report the problem with the mold in her freezer the first time it occurred.
Eventually, a worker came and addressed the problem, but the freezer broke again soon after, and the mold redeveloped.
Despite persistent calls to the call center, it "took about two months for them to come back," during which time a call agent told McKoy that an influx of maintenance requests was causing the delay.
McKoy said that Facilities came to address the problem for a second time only after her roommate's mother called to complain.
"I think they have really poor customer services," McKoy said.
Regardless of the volume of complaints that Facilities must handle, "it seems to me that they don't respond unless you get a parent to call, or if you call over and over again," McKoy said.
@inside article header:Customer service
Blaik said that there is "room for things to fall through the cracks" when it comes to residents' complaints.
There is "room to improve on the housing side" in the department's ability to receive orders and communicate back to students, Blaik added.
Part of the problem relates back to Penn's "tremendous deferred maintenance issues," Blaik said. Facilities is plagued by an extensive backlog of repairs and renovations that are long overdue.
Before 2001, none of the money invested in Penn's facilities renewal fund -- used to address deferred maintenance issues -- was being spent on the dormitories.
As a result of the University's failure to allocate more funds to facilities improvement, maintenance operations often consist of quick fixes being applied where extensive replacements are needed.Comments powered by Disqus
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