The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

In stark contrast to the facelift Hamilton College House received last summer, the residence's mechanical room remains in a state of disrepair.

The University focuses a significant amount of effort on keeping facilities clean and safe, but despite that, significant problems remain.

Many Facilities workers said that while they realize they are working on a limited budget, their department has a responsibility to improve its customer service and the campus' buildings, and it can do a better job.

"The customer services is really terrible," said an employee of 15 years, who wished to remain anonymous. "They'll make an issue of it when the parents call. I go to the same room over and over again. Nothing's getting done."

"I think the students are being shortchanged," another Facilities worker said. "They are being put low on the totem pole in terms of service. For the amount of money you pay, you aren't getting what you deserve."

Facilities officials say that these issues are being addressed, and that it is impossible to fix every problem at once. However, workers say that a range of issues with the department's overall management contributes to problems in buildings' mechanical rooms and the workers' ability to respond to everyday maintenance calls.

@inside article header:Mechanical rooms

Poor upkeep of buildings' mechanical rooms -- the centers for air and electrical control -- sometimes present safety hazards for Facilities workers.

Many pipes are corroded and the insulation around them is ripped. Additionally, steam lines that are supposed to be insulated remain uncovered.

Facilities and Real Estate spokesman Tony Sorrentino said that the repairs to some mechanical room equipment are part of the campus buildings' deferred maintenance needs that the department addresses annually, but does not have enough money to fund all at once.

However, many Facilities workers say that this is a relatively new phenomenon, and that the state of the mechanical rooms has deteriorated rapidly in the past five years.

Two weeks ago, in Harrison College House's mechanical room, there was water gushing from a circulator pump next to an electrical panel -- magnifying the potential for an electrical fire.

Additionally, several circulator pumps -- used to cycle water through the building -- are lacking insulation, which is necessary to conserve energy and also serves to keep them dry. Rather than reinsulating the pumps, plastic garbage bags have been wrapped around them to prevent them from getting wet.

These issues persist, despite the fact that building administrators make routine checks on mechanical rooms to make sure that they remain safe for workers.

"We pass through all the mechanical rooms and not only inspect them, but clean them as well," Sorrentino wrote.

Additionally, Facilities Services instituted a cleaning program that addressed problems in mechanical rooms of non-residential buildings last summer. The program, which used two temporary union workers, will expand this summer to address problems in mechanical rooms in residence halls, Sorrentino wrote.

"This is a supplementary effort to our regular strategy that utilizes our groundskeepers to clean mechanical rooms on inclement days," he added.

@inside article header:First Response Team

The Facilities Services "First Response Team" is comprised of approximately 50 workers who operate out of three locations on campus. The team functions to initially assess the severity of a complaint, and to either fix the problem immediately or decide what resources are needed to respond.

The system was developed in November 2003. Prior to that point, "there were occasional imbalances in workloads," as workers were distributed over five zones on campus and were unable to respond quickly, Sorrentino wrote.

"The First Response Team is structured so we have more flexibility to troubleshoot and solve problems," Sorrentino wrote.

Some employees, however, said that instead of increasing efficiency, this program impedes their work.

They said the system does not allow them enough time to actually fix the problems they are called in to address. Instead, there is only enough time to put "band-aids" on certain problems, such as leaking toilets. As a result, the issues remain.

@inside article header:Supply shortages

The main storeroom for all building supplies is located at the Left Bank at 31st and Walnut streets.

Workers said they waste a significant amount of time walking from the storehouse to their work sites on campus.

Sorrentino, however, wrote that there are "storage cabinets located throughout campus, strategically placed to provide material to the buildings."

But in addition to the location of supplies, many employees said that the materials they need for routine jobs are often out of stock, which drastically increases the amount of time it takes to complete even simple tasks.

"It takes a week or so before we get a piece" for a project, one Facilities worker of 15 years said.

"They don't have enough trucks to physically take people to their areas, so we have to walk there," an employee of 20 years said. "That takes time away from the students' work."

@inside article header:Management

Only approximately 10 percent of the bosses to whom Facilities workers directly report are tradesmen themselves, Vice President for Facilities and Real Estate Services Omar Blaik said.

These bosses are primarily engineers and property managers and come from technical backgrounds.

"Having 'bosses' that are engineers makes them extremely qualified and familiar with the specific work that Facilities employees do," Sorrentino wrote in an e-mail.

However, many Facilities workers said that few of their bosses have direct experience with the kinds of work that they do every day.

"They have no idea what [we] do," said one Facilities employee, who has worked at Penn for 22 years.

Despite the fact that the number of Facilities workers has increased from 196 mechanics to 215 since 1998, and the number of employees in management has decreased from 55 to 50, many workers still said the department is short-staffed.

Part of the problem, workers said, stems from the fact that though there are approximately 180 mechanics on campus during the day, only four workers report during the second shift and just two are on campus from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.