More than 150 students, faculty, and staff signed a petition calling on Penn to solve the frequent ceiling leakages and pest infestations in David Rittenhouse Laboratory.
The letter, which was sent to Vice Dean for Finance and Administration Matthew Lane Wednesday, includes the persistent maintenance issues that students and faculty working in DRL have faced for years. The signatories said the constant leakages have also affected both their health and their academic work.
"In addition to the problems related to insects, mice, and having unreasonable office temperatures throughout the year, we have had to deal with the multiple water leaks occurring in our offices every semester," the petition read. "We expect to have conveyed an idea of what the current work conditions in DRL are like, and how detrimental they are to our well-being."
The petition was sparked by a major ceiling leak on Feb. 23 in the building, which is located at 33rd and Walnut streets. The leak caused massive amounts of water to flood the fourth floor, forcing 10 graduate students to relocate out of their offices and resulting in damage to 18 rooms.
The ceiling rupture was the fifth leaking incident caused by the broken cooling system within the past 18 months, the petition's drafters said. It was also the tipping point for them.
"I’ve been working in that office for more than three years now, and it is actually a health problem," said fourth-year physics Ph.D. student Lucas Secco, who is one of the petition writers. "We’re working 10 to 12 hours a day in these dark, humid, cold places full of [mice] feces."
“It’s dusty — we don’t get proper cleaning for the carpets or the couches. Over time of course your health deteriorates," Secco added.
Third-year physics Ph.D. student Guram Kartvelishvili, who also helped draft the petition, said the administration must have been aware the pipes were leaking because it was a long-term problem.
"I’ve never seen anyone coming here and talking to us and at least say they’re going to do anything," he said.
The recurring leaks are caused by the chilled water piping, fourth-year physics Ph.D. student Mariana Carrillo Gonzalez said. Towers that supplied chilled water for DRL were removed around the 1970s, but several abandoned pipes are filled with pressurized chilled water, which causes them to burst.
About 10 to 12 pipes of this kind are directly above the office where Gonzalez, another petition drafter, does research. Every time one of these pipes starts leaking, it creates a downpour from the ceiling and causes a leak down from the fourth floor to the second floor of the building.
Following the circulation of the petition, Physics Department Chair Mark Trodden wrote in a Feb. 27 email to the department that he sent "very clear and forceful letters to facilities, to the Vice Dean, and to the academic dean of [the School of Arts and Sciences], describing in great detail the problems we face and the long-term damage that this building does to our program."
"This goes far beyond the effects of this one incident, and is to supplement the ongoing efforts I have been engaged in for the last few years to try to get the university to do something about DRL," he added in the email.
Though Trodden and the petition writers said Nixon has made efforts to temporarily remedy the building's maintenance issues, facilities and administrators have not implemented permanent solutions.
Gonzalez said she expected a "bare minimum" response from the administration to include fixing temperature control, providing regular cleanings, and preventing the leaks and pest infestations.
"The SAS Dean’s office deeply regrets the recent floods in DRL and the disruption and damage they have caused our faculty, staff and students in the building," SAS Dean Steven Fluharty wrote in an email to the DP. "Physics and Astronomy and Mathematics are very important departments that advance our core missions of teaching and research."
Both Fluharty and Faramarz Vakili, executive director of Operations & Maintenance in Facilities & Real Estate Services, said contractors will be addressing the ceiling leakage issue this weekend. Vakili added that nonessential pipes will be removed to reduce the chance of future leaks.
Physics professor Gary Bernstein said DRL's temperature regulation has been an issue ever since he arrived at Penn 15 years ago. Physics professor Randall Kamien also said he was worried that the poor maintenance issues will impact the physics department's ability to recruit potential students.
"I think we have such a fantastic department and group of people in the physics major that we need a building to match," College senior Abigail Lee said. "It's not fair that all these graduate students and faculty have worked so hard their whole lives and then come to Penn and have to deal with things like leaks ruining their computers or work."
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