Lawrence University has been experiencing a variety of infrastructure challenges due to maintenance that has been routinely deferred, according to two anonymous sources familiar with Lawrence’s facilities. According to those sources, this was one of the causes of an underground electrical fire that knocked out power to half of campus earlier this year.
The fire, which began on Thursday, April 14, was caused by a malfunction in a high voltage electric cable supplying power to the Seeley G. Mudd Library.
At approximately 2 p.m. that day, reports of fluctuating power levels inside the library building prompted facility services personnel to investigate the space, which they could not enter due to smoke. The affected power lines were quickly shut down to allow fire department personnel with appropriate breathing apparatus to safely access the space, and contractors were brought in to repair the damaged cable.
While power was restored to other campus buildings by Friday, April 15, the library stayed shut down until Friday, April 16 as emergency repairs continued.
The electrical incident on April 14 was not the only recent high-profile failure of campus infrastructure.
Due to a broken part, the main student elevator in the Warch Campus Center has been out of service for the entirety of Spring Term. VP for Student Life Chris Card reported to the LUCC Student Welfare Committee on Wednesday, May 9 that it would most likely stay out of operation until the end of the academic year, since a recently ordered replacement part failed during installation.
On Wednesday, March 8, a water main burst near the Wriston Arts Center, necessitating a multi-day closure of the building.
In 2019, a steam pipe running under Main Hall Green failed, requiring a months-long closure of the green as a space as new pipe was laid in a trench.
Students have also complained about a lack of elevators and accessible paddle switches to open doors.
According to Bradley Short from LogCheck.org, emergency repairs after an infrastructure failure, like the ones performed on both the broken steam and water pipes and the malfunctioning high-voltage cable, are frequently much more expensive than preventative maintaince performed before a failure. Attempts to cut costs by deferring needed repairs can therefore result in higher costs, as expensive repairs replace less-expensive preventative maintenance.
Multiple students expressed frustration at minor failures on campus, especially in campus plumbing. “Unfortunately [maintenance] is really difficult right now because facility services is very [under]staffed,” said senior Mikayla Frank-Martin, co-chair of the Lawrence University Student Welfare Committee.
Frank-Martin, a trombone performance major, also stated that repairs to plumbing in the conservatory were complicated by the age of the pipes making it difficult to find replacement parts.
First-year Lillian Thompson also complained about plumbing malfunctions on campus, saying that breakdowns are routine in Draheim Hall, where they live. They talked specifically about the bathrooms in Draheim.
“Many times, I will wake up in the morning and go into the bathroom and see a bunch of water on the ground that can’t reach the drain, and no one does anything to clean it up,” Thompson said. “It’s frustrating to have people come to work on this and still be dealing with the issue.”
The university has made plans to address this backlog. According to sources close to facility services, President Laurie Carter has made plans to put money from the university’s endowment towards accelerating work on campus facilities as part of the Strategic Investment Initiative.
Upcoming projects include replacing the pedestrian bridge over South Drew Street between Colman and Ormsby residence halls and repairs to the HVAC system in the Music-Drama Center and Conservatory.