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Monday, June 1, 2020

Edens North residents left without hot water

The bathrooms in Edens North Residence Hall have been without hot water for over a month. // Photo by Christina Becker
The bathrooms in Edens North Residence Hall have been without hot water for over a month. // Photo by Christina Becker

It was cold, it was wet, it was the middle of winter and the water in Edens North was freezing.

Fast forward more than a month later, and the building’s heat exchanger has not been replaced since it “catastrophically failed” on Jan. 15, said Terence Symonds, associate facilities director of University Residences.

Students living in Edens North have adapted to temporary solutions, including showering in other residence halls.

Sophomore and resident Cindy Johnson said it’s been difficult without hot water.

“Sometimes it’s OK if you’re able to time your showers right. If you get up super early or get home super late you’re good,” Johnson said. “If anyone else is taking a shower on any of the floors, the water will get freezing really fast.”

Johnson said she received an email after the unit failed, stating there would be no hot water but promising a temporary repair that same weekend.    

“And then it kind of continued,” Johnson said. “Problems kept coming up and they kept saying ‘We’ll fix it later,’ and emails also continued, ‘It’s fixed you’ll be fine’ and it kind of has continued for a month.”

Symonds said he hasn’t received any complaints since Jan. 18, but acknowledges that it is still an inconvenience.

Symonds said 95 percent of the buildings within campus housing are 50 years old, and parts like plumbing typically start failing at the 40-year point.

Due to the building’s age, 60-year-old parts were not readily available and a new unit had to be custom made locally, Symonds said.

Residents were left without hot water for two days before a temporary replacement was put in place. A long-term replacement will be installed over spring break, Symonds said.

After providing some communication to students via email, Symonds said the university temporarily opened other residence halls as well as the Wade King Student Recreation Center for showers.

Symonds said the new custom built headpiece to the heat exchanger was replaced on Friday, Feb. 19, at 5 p.m. The smaller, more aging components will be replaced over spring break, and the entire unit will be replaced over the summer.

The entire unit is projected to be replaced over the summer and Symonds estimates at a cost of no more than $100,000.

On Jan. 17, the university temporarily installed three 50-gallon hot water tanks but  on Jan. 18, Facilities Management received complaints from residents about the water being lukewarm and intermittent, according to Symonds.

The next day the university disconnected the hot water used for the washing machines in Edens North so the limited supply could be used strictly for bathroom use and only cold water left for laundry.

Freshman and Edens North resident Isaiah Valera said the water has been a “bearable cold,” not enough for him to request the use of other buildings’ showers.

“We’re in the winter season right now and not having hot water makes showers super uncomfortable,” Valera said. “All you have to look forward to when you get back is just a cold shower; it’s kind of an inconvenience.”

Freshman and resident Daniel Young said the situation was annoying with off and on cold water, but that it has been decently warm for the last couple weeks.

“I don’t know what happened with the actual water heater but it was pretty spectacular because the water was ridiculously cold,” Young said.

Young said that in the first few days of the heat exchanger failed, he didn’t think too much of it.

Coming home in the afternoon to shower, he thought the building was just running out of hot water because everyone else was showering at the same time.

“After a while it got really obvious that something was wrong,” he said. “It got so ridiculously cold I had to go use [Mathes Hall’s] shower.”

A comprehensive assessment of campus infrastructure taken in August through September and submitted in January by a group of engineers has led to a revision of the university’s 20-year capital plan, the cost of future projects on campus, Symonds said.

“What we do now is going to basically shape the revised capital plan that accommodates both what the students want and what kind of work the buildings need,” Symonds said.

The assessment determined the status each building on campus and noted the types of repair needed as well as future plans for remodel with the help of student input via demand surveys related to concept and design.

“Something 50 years old that has piping that’s failing—the only way you can actually make it better is you have to fix it,” Symonds said.

Symonds said whatever that was on the capital plan last year is still scheduled to be completed but the assessment helps determine how they prioritize these future projects.

“What we do [summer of 2017] might change based upon the revised conditions,” Symonds said. “It’ll definitely change whatever was on the plan summer of 2018.”

University director of communications and marketing Paul Cocke said the university and residence system works diligently to manage the status of the buildings on campus.

“One of the reasons we’re doing our major renovation of Carver, for example, is there are components in that building that they can’t find parts for anymore,” Cocke said.

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