Some student residents have reported numerous maintenance issues, pest disturbances, and clogged trash chutes in Penn's high-rise college houses.
Home to nearly 2,400 students, Rodin, Harrison, and Harnwell College Houses were constructed in the 1970s. The students that The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with described slow response times to maintenance issues, including dirty common areas; clogged trash chutes; and malfunctioning elevators.
Walt Molishus, the director of utilities with Facilities and Real Estate Services, said the most prevalent calls to maintenance in the three high rises are for light bulbs, clocks, sinks and toilets, and batteries for the locks on the doors. Common calls also include plumbing services, which is due to the presence of kitchens and private bathrooms in the high rises.
"In general, lighting, light bulbs, and plumbing account for about 80% of our calls on high rises," Molishus said. "Routine work orders are targeted to be completed within 30 days or less. Emergencies are responded to immediately ... Overall, [the average response time] is four and a half days."
Molishus added that if a student has any urgent issues, they should call FRES on the phone directly. However, an RA in Harrison — who asked to be anonymous out of fear of retaliation from the University — wrote to the DP that complaints felt unheard.
“When we raise complaints, it feels like we are speaking into a void,” the anonymous RA wrote. “The only way to raise issues is by filing a work order. When the issues are severe and persistent, this system is really inefficient because there is no clear way to escalate.”
Mice are also a common problem in the high rises. HarveenKaur Kothari, the director of Locust area, operations, and maintenance at FRES, said that problems with mice tend to occur on lower floors of the high rise buildings. She explained that the University uses an integrated pest management approach to prevent the infestation and reproduction of pests, including several inspections throughout the year in the high rises.
"Overall, the past number of calls that we have received [for mice] for the high rises are very low compared to the pre-pandemic counts," Kothari said. "We are looking at about 65% lower."
Paul Forchielli, the senior associate director for building operations, noted that students can also play a role in preventing pest infestations. He said that students should be mindful of cleaning up after themselves, avoiding clutter in residential spaces, and regularly place trash into trash chutes.
Clogged trash chutes have also been a persistent issue, according to residents. Harrison’s trash chutes are "forever clogged," according to the anonymous RA, who said that the clogged trash chutes have been “incredibly frustrating for residents” due to the smell, inconvenience, and lack of sanitariness.
According to Forchielli, trash chute clogs are often caused by cardboard. When students put cardboard boxes down the trash chute, they get stuck. The solution, he said, is to break down the cardboard and place it into the recycling area instead of the trash chute.
Forchielli also encouraged residents to call FRES as soon as they are aware of a clog on their floor because it is hard for housekeeping to unplug the chute once a lot of trash accumulates.
The anonymous Harrison RA wrote that they have filed multiple work orders about trash chute clogs, but the system shows that the work orders are resolved when they are clearly not. Emailing the building administrator did not fix the issues, either, they wrote.
In Harrison, maintenance overall has been subpar, according to the anonymous RA living in the building. The anonymous RA wrote that hallways, floors, and lounges appear to almost never have been cleaned and that many members of the RA staff were "frustrated" with "persistent maintenance issues" and "poor support from administration" in responding to them.
Elevators in the high rises have also faced problems with interruptions to service. Out of 43 elevators in the residential portfolio, the 12 in the high rises account for about 60% of elevator-related work orders, Kothari said. The elevators in the high rises encounter more usage due to the density and footprint of the building.
"All elevators are on campus, are tested annually and certified to be safe and in working condition," Kothari said. "Having said that, the elevators do have minor repairs from time to time."
Harrison's elevators have been particularly problematic, dealing with month-long repairs and a situation in which all the buttons stopped working. In an Oct. 7 email to Harrison residents, Building Administrator Chris Lawson said that Harrison's second elevator would be out of service for approximately a month.
“While inspecting the elevator earlier this week, the elevator repair company determined that while the elevator was safe to use, it was time to replace certain aging gears and bearings used to operate the elevator,” the email read.
Forchielli said that the elevator in question was making "particularly significant noise" due to issues with its gears.
"In terms of operations, [it] was going to probably break down fairly frequently over the next few months," he said. "So we figured we might as well go ahead and take care of this now."
Then, on the morning of Oct. 12, the elevator call buttons stopped working in Harrison, forcing students on all levels to take the stairs down the building. Repairs were completed later that day, according to an email sent by Lawson to Harrison residents.
"I had to go down 19 flights of stairs to get to class," College sophomore Ryan Tannir, a Harrison resident, said. "And a lot of the times, only [two out of four] elevators are operating."
Rodin's elevators are the newest of the three buildings, having been installed during 2016 and 2017, according to Kothari. Forchielli added that the elevators in Harnwell and Harrison had cosmetic work done in the mid-2000s, but still contained components that were original to those buildings.
"No elevator on campus has been reported for dropping floors, and in fact it is impossible for cars to fall unless all the cables are cut," Kothari replied when asked about posts on Sidechat, a social media platform, that claimed that an elevator fell six flights in Rodin.
Forchielli speculated that such a report could have stemmed from the elevators being programmed to return to a specific floor if no buttons are pressed inside.
"If you had a situation when you stepped into an elevator and you either forgot to hit the button, or there's a malfunction with the button, and then it started ... going down like it normally does, you might perceive that somehow that it had fallen," Forchielli said.
Barbara Lea-Kruger, Penn Business Services' director of communications and external relations, encouraged students to note any issues in their residences immediately.
"If students can report issues right away, that's critical," Kruger said. "And that has to do with anything, any kind of maintenance issue, whether it's pests, whether it's, you know, trash chutes, whether it's mold, whether it's anything, students have a big role to play in prevention."