Donner facilities flood maintenance requests

At 4 p.m. last Sunday, second-year student Ben Martinez decided he would take a shower. Donner House had other plans for him. “The water was ice cold,” said Martinez, who is a resident advisor (RA) on 2 West. Martinez wanted a shower, and he didn’t want it cold. He went to the 1 West showers, tried the basement bathroom, and doubled back to 2 West half an hour later. In each instance, “same deal. No hot water.”

Don Coffelt, Associate Vice President for Facilities Management and Campus Services, addressed the issue in an email exchange with The Tartan. He said that his team has “been tracking a persistent, but intermittent, domestic hot water issue in Donner.” After two reports were filed earlier this month, “the root cause was traced to the primary hot water heat exchanger (the device that converts steam heat to hot water), and we switched Donner to its secondary (i.e., backup/redundant) domestic hot water system … The secondary system cannot produce as much hot water … so there may have been isolated reports of hot water shortages between the 10th and today.”

Primary system repairs were planned for Feb. 25, according to Coffelt. Martinez reported that no Donner bathrooms had hot shower water on Feb. 26.

Donner residential education (ResEd) staff have begun a list of facilities complaints in the last few months. Martinez estimated that, over the past month, the rate of cold showers is “once a week on one floor for the past month.” Water temperatures were nothing, though, in comparison to “the other stuff.” When asked to elaborate, Martinez’s initial response was: “Oh boy.”

Coffelt told The Tartan that his department addresses 70,000 university-wide complaints annually.

“The stairs out front [of Donner] were nice and crumbly for a bit because of all the ice and snow,” he recalled in an interview with The Tartan. Facilities management has since solved the problem, but for a week Martinez observed that there was “definitely a hazard.”

Then there is the flooding, an internal natural disaster for which Donner is notorious. “The water’s seeping out of the showers onto the floor,” Martinez said. Part of the problem, he explained, is that people do not properly put the shower curtains within the stalls. But he also pointed out that the floor is not graded correctly, causing water to pool in the bathroom and snake outside of it. It does not take a facilities expert, according to Martinez, to see that “things shouldn’t be flooding as much as they are.”

“My residents have told me it’s difficult for them to make a request,” said Martinez, citing numerous loopholes they have to jump through to get to the right form. “It’s a complicated process to get to ‘Donner bathroom’ instead of ‘my room.’”

ResEd staff frequently file complaints and flag facilities problems, but responses are often delayed. Martinez acknowledged that there is only so much custodial staff can do. “Custodians can’t do much other than clean up the mess,” he said, but they are not able to address the structural shortcomings of the building. “The bathrooms would need to be retiled and regraded,” Martinez assessed. These are changes that cannot be made with a quick call to maintenance.

Access to clean water is also limited. The water bottle refill station has gone a month without a filter replacement. “Water filters being down for extended periods of time is not safe,” said Martinez.

In an explanation sent to The Tartan, Coffelt wrote: “Bottle filling stations … [have] filters that are changed as needed. The water from fountains without bottle filling stations is not filtered,” but are frequently tested to ensure the water meets safety standards.

Other facilities complaints include a year-long accretion of mold on the handicap shower bench and unpredictable heating and air conditioning from room to room. Many Donner RAs have been questioning the validity of a floor plan they found online. Their residents have observed heating and cooling patterns inconsistent with the controls outlined on the map. “One room controls heat for the two next to it,” Martinez explained. “But one could be scalding, the other ice cold.”

Donner RAs are curious about maintenance’s delayed reaction to facilities issues. Martinez specifically addressed accountability. “That's kind of — respectfully — their job; to make sure the space is liveable.”