Broken chiller leaves UNCW students sweating
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 10:09
Morton Hall’s chiller experienced yet another breakdown last week, forcing most professors to cancel or relocate classes, while some sweated through the heat.
The unit in Morton Hall, home of the English and history departments, was built in 1978 and has broken down several times in the past.
“It’s becoming a real problem,” said Don Bushman, chair of the English department, “Everyone—students, maintenance workers, the faculty—is losing a lot of man-hours.”
Last fall, an outage lasted for three days, which Tom Freshwater, director of the UNCW Physical Plant, called the first major breakdown in a while.
This year, the building was left without air conditioning for a full week, causing the English department alone to lose more than 70 hours of classroom instruction. A number of professors used online assignments as an alternative and some held classes for an abbreviated amount of time, noticing the toll the heat was taking on the students.
Freshwater declined to comment on this year’s breakdown.
Several students who attended class indoors agreed that it was hard to concentrate on the coursework. Many migrated toward the open windows and used their books as fans instead of taking notes.
The history department, located on the second floor of Morton, experienced the worst of the heat. The classrooms that lined the hallway were all abandoned. Every door was covered in cancelation notices, leaving only the professors to brave the heat in their offices.
“I’m dying; that’s it,” said Thomas Hart, a history lecturer.
Over the years, the chiller has been subject to several temporary fixes, buying the unit a few months until the next problem is discovered. State budget cuts and continual deferred maintenance have prevented the entire unit from being replaced, which could cost up to $250,000.
“We have a deferred maintenance list with all buildings that need attention,” said Charles Maimone, vice chancellor for business affairs, “Morton is on the top of the list for a replacement cooling tower. It just all comes down to money.”
The cost for repair has been budgeted; however, the university has not yet been given the allocated money due to the continual cuts in funding.
“The thing is shot, whether they can stitch it up or not, ” said Paul Townend, chair of the history department. “And as chair, the most important thing to me is that we don’t lose instruction time.”
Last Friday, there were two main problems diagnosed in the chiller. The first problem was fixed late that evening. The second problem is more complex and will be addressed Sept. 22, 2012.
The unfixed problem requires a mobile unit to be installed, to allow the HVAC team to work on the chiller while still providing AC to the building. However, the time between the chiller’s disconnect and mobile unit’s installation will leave Morton Hall without air for up to a few hours.
A mere 30 minutes after the unit was repaired last year, UNCW’s chancellor, Gary Miller, toured the still-warm halls of Morton for the first time. The absence of faculty and students cut his meet-and-greet short.
“If it makes them feel any better, the one in my office doesn’t work, either,” said Miller, laughing.
Since the chancellor’s office is properly ventilated now, perhaps Morton Hall can climb the priority list for a much-needed fix.