Spring is still officially a month away, but Friday 21 February 2014 reminded us that it is coming soon. Yesterday was the first day in quite awhile with temperatures above freezing, although just barely, and even a centimeter of rain. Lots of road salt got washed into our watersheds (sorry, fish). Red maple flower buds are getting perceptibly larger. But this brief warming streak also meant that I needed to go into my research laboratory in the Carleton Technology & Training Centre (CTTC) and carefully place bailing buckets. For a few years now, ever since we switched building maintenance contracts, whenever there are heavy rains or lots of snow melt, the waters pour into my research space. Fortunately it is easy to know where to place the buckets, some up to 125 liters, because maintenance workers no longer replace the waterlogged, crumbled, and (sometimes) missing ceiling tiles. Ironically, less than a month ago, a Joint Health and Safety Committee inspection cited our research laboratory for “lack of general clean up”. Yet much of the mess is due to crumbled ceiling tiles and buckets to catch flooding, buckets that are often precariously balanced on strategically placed furniture. It is not just my research space that predictably floods. Lights in the hallway and washrooms of this building flicker because electrical ballasts are water-filled and slowly dripping. I am told that the ceiling in the women’s washroom looks near collapse. [Kudos to the dean of science who immediately mobilized maintenance workers to take care of the symptoms as soon as I informed him of the flooding yesterday]. Even newly renovated parts of this building have flooding and ugly black oozing that occurs with wet weather. Such problems do not just affect the building where I reside. The biology department chair’s office, in the adjacent Nesbitt Building, has flooded for as long as I have been at Carleton. The basement of that building sometimes has massive waterfalls (members of the biology department have startling videos; I also have some photos). I have even seen trash cans collecting flood waters in the office of the dean of science, in Herzberg Laboratories. And the dean’s suite is neither on the top nor basement floor, and was recently renovated.
Maintenance problems are not just limited to roofing. There are also problems with heating, cooling, electrical, and plumbing. For instance, the heat was not turned on in my office until 20 January this year. At least the heat was on in the hallways, but it was a cold two months during which I really dreaded coming into work. These basic services really can affect education, as Jonathan Kozol highlighted in his 1991 book “Savage Inequalities”. I encourage members of the Carleton community to report other major infrastructure problems to the university administration (or to me if you wish to keep some anonymity).
My reason for blogging this, over a month before the next board meeting, is that Carleton pours millions of dollars into erecting new structures, sometimes out of our own coffers, such as $34 million for a parking garage that Carleton does not need and several million for a new gym for our great men’s only football team. But we seem unwilling to maintain existing buildings. Yet, maintaining infrastructure pays for itself. Re-roofing a few buildings would obviate the band-aid approach that building maintenance seems to have become. My graduate students could actually conduct their research, rather than do flood control. And imagine the legal and/or public relations fallout if anybody has a ceiling collapse on them, slips and falls on flooded floors, or has a grievance filed against them for emptying buckets of flood waters, especially when the problems have been reported for years but have gone unfixed.
As a member of the Board of Governors building committee, I am appalled at how much discussion there is in open sessions of the board on new buildings and almost no discussion of existing buildings. I understand that there is no glory nor fame in dealing with infrastructure maintenance, especially if it can be deferred until decision-makers retire from the university or the board. But shouldn’t we have a longer vision, especially if we care about Carleton’s long-term reputation?