Heating shuts down in subzero weather

The heater supplying Brooks and Walker Halls shut down in the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 15 during subzero temperatures.

Physical plant responded to a report around 2:30 p.m. and restored the boiler at approximately 3:10 p.m. Workers returned to Brooks after a later complaint at around 4:40 p.m. and fixed the boiler at approximately 8 p.m., as reported by the Office of Campus Security.

Brooks’ Community Adviser Meredith Gumash, ’15, said that she called security following complaints from residential advisers in the building at around 7 p.m.

“By the time that I called them about seven on Sunday, [security] knew and somebody was already at Brooks,” said Gumash.

Gumash was assured that physical plant’s employees working on scene were not going to leave until the boiler was repaired.

Brian Gillette, assistant director of physical plant, explained that a single component of a larger machine was not operating correctly, causing the heat to go out.

“There is a component [of the boiler] that continually needs to feed what they call ‘make-up water’ and there’s a valve that allows that water to come in and it wasn’t working properly,” said Gillette.

It is an old building and even with regular maintenance this sort of stuff happens to old facilities.

— Kristin Caja

With these multi-part systems, any given component can cause the system to malfunction.

“Our equipment, like any equipment, there’s a lot of components,” said Gillette. “All of those components have to be working properly and there’s times when we’ll have problems with different pieces or components that causes issues. We work hard to prevent that from happening but there’s still instances where we’ll have components that may not last as long as you think they’re going to or the severe cold is putting a heavy burden on the equipment to keep up with temperatures.”

Zachary Cramer, ’15, the CA of Walker Hall voiced his concern with the age and upkeep of certain buildings on campus.

“Walker and Brooks are older and so there is always a concern about the general nature of the buildings,” said Cramer. “In fact, given this concern, I’d definitely lobby for more work to be done in buildings like Caflisch, Brooks and Walker in the next few years as the college moves back into a surplus.”

Kristin Caja, ’16, a resident of the building, was not surprised to learn about the boiler malfunction.

“It is an old building and even with regular maintenance this sort of stuff happens to old facilities,” said Caja.

Overall, students were not too concerned with the situation, with the exception of on social media, according to Cramer.

“Honestly, I haven’t heard much concern from residents outside of Yik Yak. Granted, these problems are usually something that an RA would deal with, so people are less likely to contact me about isolated events, but it is still surprising the lack of communication for something, seemingly, large.”

Gumash explained that no formal email was sent to students during the heating outage, but that she had all of her RAs email their residents about the situation. She also has been in contact with Residence Life and said to expect a more formal email soon.

“I’ve been talking to Residence Life and they’re going to send a follow-up email saying what’s happened, what they’ve done and what should happen next time if it was to happen again,” said Gumash.

Gillette mentioned that if individuals are experiencing a lack of heat in their room, it might be caused from another component of the heating system, separate from the boiler.

“In these heating systems there are multiple components, there’s the component that makes the heat, whether it’s water, steam, hot air, but there’s another manner in which that heat that’s made gets to that room either through ductwork, piping. Once it gets to the room it’s controlled again by another method,” said Gillette. “Any of those components along the way can have an issue and cause the end user to not have heat.”

The boiler that was malfunctioning earlier this week is fixed, according to Gillette, but if any problems persist, he emphasized the importance of telling RAs and physical plant in order for the situation to be addressed.

“The equipment that generates the heat is all functioning correctly,” said Gillette. “We do have some extreme cold right now and that could be…offering that perception of whether the heat is working well or not. When it’s this cold, it’s cold. But, on  a case by case basis, if there are rooms that don’t have heat, they need to either contact us during the day or their RAs to let us know specifics and we’ll come address those.”