At 5:34 p.m. students, faculty and staff received a Stag Alert email blast notifying them at the University had decided to cancel all classes after 6:45 p.m. due to severe flooding. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that, on Sept. 25, 2018 Bridgeport, Conn. received 1.97 inches of rain.
Students are familiar with the usual signs of water damage around campus that result from intense rain. The usual trashcan placed underneath a steady drip from above, water leaks spotted all around the John A. Barone Campus Center; in the middle of the lower level, by the ramp in the lower level, by the mailboxes and in the middle of Einstein’s Bros Bagels.
However, this storm did all that and then some.
The Commuter Lounge
There was so much water that the drains outside the door to the commuter lounge were overwhelmed and water began to leak into the building. Water poured in through the door and began to pool into the kitchenette and main lounge.
Students quickly moved to unplug the refrigerator in the lounge, fearing they would be electrocuted. The students in the lounge also documented the flood via Snapchat. The carpet was soaked. Disconcertingly, most of the outlet units in the lounge are on the floor.
For several years now, there has been a hole in the wall near the ceiling of the lounge with a bucket placed below. This bucket constantly collects water leaking down from the roof of BCC. One commuter student who did not wish to identified by name said that sometimes the water that collects in the bucket is brown. On that day, the bucket was not enough to contain the water, which streamed down and soaked the carpet in that corner as well.
On Oct. 2, a week after the flooding of Sept. 25, Joseph Bouchard, a Connecticut state certified fire marshal, who is also the director of The Office of Environmental Health and Safety, walked through the lounge.
Bouchard was unaware that any flooding had taken place in the commuter lounge. However, he was not surprised that it flooded.
Bouchard said, “I have never seen the rain accumulate to that extent,” in regards to the Sept. 25 storm.
He also did not know that a kitchenette area had been added to the space, but clarified that since it was not a full kitchen its construction would not have needed to go through his office.
In response to the students’ concern about the refrigerator, Bouchard explained that if the outlets were ground-fault circuit interrupter outlets, or GFCIs, that electrocution would not have been an issue. GFCIs are designed to cut off power to the outlet if it detects an interruption in the current, which would be the case if water got into the outlet. So, if the refrigerator outlet or the outlets in the floor were GFCIs, they would shut off when wet. At the time of his meeting with The Mirror, Bouchard was not sure if the outlets were in fact GFCIs.
After looking into the matter, Bouchard discovered that none of the outlets in the commuter lounge are GFCIs.
Commuter student Maddie Ortiz ‘20 was alarmed by the water and outlets issue. “I definitely do get nervous sometimes thinking about the electrical stuff because we all use those outlets 24/7 and if something happens to the outlets, who knows what’ll happen to the people using it or touching it,” Ortiz said.
The hole in the wall and ceiling has been an issue for years. Bouchard attributed it to issues with the green roof of the BCC. He speculated that the water coming from the ceiling might be brown because it is mixed with dirt from the green roof. The roof has been an issue for years, Bouchard elaborated, but there has been a lack of consensus from the administration about how to fix the issue.
Bouchard referred The Mirror to contact Peter Crowley, director of facilities management. Crowley did not respond to The Mirror’s request for a comment.
Another safety issue raised by The Mirror was that the carpet was still soaked with water, which could lead to mold growth. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that water damaged areas be dried out within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
The EPA warns that, “Exposure to mold can cause hay-fever-like reactions (such as stuffy nose, red, watery or itchy eyes, sneezing).” The carpet was visibly stained with water damage, Bouchard pointed out that because the carpet is laid down in square units, portions of the carpet could easily be replaced without replacing the whole carpet.
Bouchard said he was not made aware of any of the concerns raised by The Mirror during the walkthrough of the lounge. Nevertheless, the problems have been noticed by students for years.
“I’ve been commuting for the past two years and I’ve definitely noticed water damage to be a huge issue,” Ortiz described. “It floods a good majority of the floor and it’s pretty gross to walk and have water coming up.”
The Mirror had a difficult time determining who in administration is actually responsible for the commuter lounge space. Meredith Smith, associate director of the office of Residence Life, referred The Mirror to Jodie Fitzpatrick, assistant director of residential colleges, Charles Sousa, senior associate director of Res Life and Pejay Lucky, associate director of Res Life. Sousa and Lucky did not respond to The Mirror’s request for a comment.
Smith also cited the office of Conference and Events Management as responsible for maintaining the BCC. Matthew Dinnan, the director of Conference and Events Management, referred The Mirror to Curt Krushinsky, director of campus planning & design and campus architect. Krushinsky did not respond to The Mirror’s request for a comment.
Ultimately, Fitzpatrick replied to The Mirror, writing in an email, “The University facilities department was contacted to clean up the water and dry the carpet that day, as well as the carpet in the entire lounge is being cleaned over the long weekend [fall break] so as to not disrupt the space for the commuters.”
As of 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 9, the carpet in the commuter lounge was still visibly water damaged.
Fitzpatrick could not be reached on Oct. 9 regarding whether or not the carpet was going to be replaced. Ophelie Rowe-Allen, associate dean of students and director of Res Life, was also contacted about the carpet replacement and could not be reached.
One former commuter student, Theresa Bravo ‘19, still held out hope that the administration would respond to concerns, “I think that the admin has really grown in paying attention to commuter student issues and wants only for the best for them and their success at the University.”
Other commuters feel this issue has not been adequately addressed by the administration.
“I don’t think the university is paying attention to it at all though. Like I said it’s been like this for well over three years and it doesn’t seem like they have any plans to fix anything until the commuter lounge just falls on our heads,” explained Ortiz. “It’s frustrating because commuters are just as much a student as the residents are, but the University doesn’t seem to think so.“
The PepsiCo Theatre
Another area of major flooding during Sept. 25 storm was the PepsiCo Theatre located on the west end of campus near Round Hill Road.
During the storm, water began gushing through the wall under a heating unit and, eventually, it was discovered that water had broken through a window in the basement. Water was pouring into the basement, eventually rising to the top of the staircase. Lynne Porter, professor of theatre, was there when the building flooded and estimated there was 8-10 feet of water in the basement.
Senior Shannon Kelley was also there when the basement flooded, “I have never seen a building flood like that. Water and dirt and leaves were shooting out of a hole in the wall, and it just kept coming. The water was literally pooling up to the windows outside the back of the building.”
Porter attributes the flooding issue to poor landscape management. She explained that no one paid attention to water drainage around the building and that, “It’s like the building has been forgotten.”
The theatre has had a history of other issues, but the water in the basement was still jarring to students.
“It was shocking, lots of things have happened to the PepsiCo but not to this degree,” Samantha Millette ‘20 explained. “My first year it was infested with wasps, then the roof basically collapsed during the independent project this past January, and now this. They should just give us a new building at this point.”
Martha LoMonaco Ph.D., professor of visual and performing arts, detailed how the original design of what is now the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts had two buildings. One served the function of the Quick Center while the second was supposed to house the film, television and media arts, studio art, music and theatre programs. The second building was never built and these programs have since been scattered across campus.
“It’s been a continual challenge of our department [visual and performing arts],” LoMonaco explained, “not being in the same building limits the collaboration of faculty and students across programs.”
Since the PepsiCo has been declared unsafe and is now off limits to students and faculty, theatre classes and rehearsals have been relocated around campus. Porter describes that students feel disoriented moving from space to space and their education is suffering as a result.
“Everything is not alright,” Porter continued, “We are at a subsistence level, not a level where we can prosper.”
Kelley, a theatre major, echoed Porter’s concerns, “Theatre is all about ‘doing;’ you can’t approach it from a theoretical standpoint, you have to gain actual experience to learn. Having a theatre serves as an environment where we can put our knowledge to practical use.”
One area of learning affected by the condemnation of the PepsiCo is costume design. Julie Leavitt-Learson is an instructor and costume designer for the production of the theatre program. Learson used to hold costume design labs in a dedicated costume space in the theatre, she is now in a multi-purpose space at the Quick Center. The space is roughly half the size of her original workspace and, after the flooding, Learson could only bring some of her equipment to the new space.
The Quick Center also has less availability compared to the PepsiCo. Previously, Learson would hold lab at hours that worked around student schedules. Now, students are in a rush to design and construct costumes for the upcoming show, “This has injected a lot of stress into the process,” Learson added.
Additionally, Learson cannot access any items left in the theatre. This means that the show will ultimately cost more money because items from previous years cannot be reused. Porter also stated that the department has had to hire more help in order to deal with the fallout of the building being closed.
The flooding of the building has also had an emotional impact on students. “I have been able to find some of my best friends in the PepsiCo, people who have become like my second family here at school,” Fallon Sullivan ‘20 detailed, “The small theatre on campus was a sacred space for us to explore our studies and grow in our theatre experiences together.”
LoMonaco, Porter and Learson all praised those in administration, especially the Quick Center and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Richard Greenwald, who have been helping with the issue. However, all three made the point that what is being done is not a long term solution.
Theatre students also highlighted this uncertainty. “There’s no sense of stability, and I don’t know if people understand how difficult it is to do the work that we do in this kind of situation,” Kelly explained. “I appreciate all that is being done, but I do think that we need a better solution if this is going to be a long-term situation,” she added.
“It’s kind of like holding your breath, you can only do it for so long,” forewarned Porter.
Loyola Hall Art Studio
Located in the basement of Loyola opposite the Department of Public Safety are the art studios for painting, sculpture, drawing and photography. In the studios, students attend classes as well as display and store their artwork.
Whenever the campus experiences heavy rains, water seeps into the building through one of the many doors. The Mirror went on a tour of the water damage in Loyola with studio art technician Patty Frattaroli.
Frattaroli recounted multiple times that she would come into work and find puddles of standing water all over the art studios. She highlighted the possible safety concerns of the recurrent flooding. Her principle concerns are that students might slip and fall or that areas might start developing mold.
She praised ABM, vice president for Facilities Management David Frassinelli and Greenwald for their responsiveness in dealing with water issues. However, when asked about long term solutions, Frattaroli was hesitant. “I feel like we’re dealing,” yielded Frattaroli.
Frattaroli explained that she did not want money to be taken away from other areas on campus that had worse water problems.
Bannow Science Center
Students sitting through a lecture in the Rudolph F. Bannow Science Center might glance up at the ceiling to see ceiling tiles stained with brown oval-like shapes.
This is a a common indicator of water damage to a building. While damaged ceiling tiles might be an unsightly nuisance, dripping water can cause more serious issues.
In Bannow 348 there is an atomic absorption spectrometer. Currently the instrument is draped with a blue tarp as water drips down from the ceiling when there is a heavy rain. The AA spectrometer works by first turning a sample into free gaseous atoms and then applying a photon to the atoms to measure the amount of energy absorbed by the sample. By measuring the pattern of energy absorbed, the identity of atom can be determined.
Matthew Kubasik Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the chemistry department, explained in an email, “The instrument is used to determine the quantities of metal ions in a sample. So, for example, if you wanted to determine the amount of calcium in water, or the amount of iron in a vitamin supplement, the AA would be the instrument to do so.”
Currently the instrument is not being used, so Kubasik was unsure if the instrument was damaged due to the water. Kubasik added, “If it is damaged, I am confident insurance claims will cover the damage. But I am pretty sure it’s going to work.”
Kubasik referred The Mirror to Joseph Simeone, a project manager in the office of Facilities Management. Simeone did not respond to The Mirror’s request for a comment
Kubasik then highlighted that the chemistry department recently received a grant for a new nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer.
The new instrument will be housed in the same leaky building as the AA spectrometer.
“It’s the Hierarchy of the University”
What do all of these groups have in common? Commuter students, the theatre program, studio art, the chemistry department – they all lack power in the larger changing University system.
In fall of 2017 there were 351 commuter students, yet their designated space on campus receives little attention from the administration. When the bucket, which collects the water dripping from the roof, fills up, students simply dump it out in the sink. Why have students resigned themselves to spending time in a space that poses health risks?
Because it takes emailing eight different people, who may or may not write back, to figure out who is in charge of the space. Because the roof of the BCC has been a known issue for years and there is still a hole in the wall of the commuter lounge.
The Daniel and Grace Tully Dining Commons, which extended the footprint of the BCC, cost $19 million. But the roof just outside its doors is cracked and damaged.
There are not a lot of theatre majors compared to management majors. However, with their current facilities it is difficult to attract potential theatre students. LoMonaco described it as a catch 22, if they had more students in the program the program would receive more resources, in order to get more students in the program the department needs more resources.
Students have noticed this paradox as well. “How is this going to look to students applying to Fairfield who are interested in theatre?” posited Sullivan, “In past years, showing perspective students the PepsiCo and watching their faces fall as they compared the Quick Center to the PepsiCo is a little heartbreaking.”
The studio art technician has to take time away preparing for classes to ensure student safety. But she does not complain about this, she instead minimizes the problems of the building because others are struggling more.
The chair of the chemistry department, located in Bannow Science Center, a symbol of progress and advancement, is grateful that water did not leak onto a more important instrument.
The new building for the Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Sciences cost $31 million. Yet, the building directly attached to it has water stained ceiling tiles.
The new Charles F. Dolan School of Business is estimated to cost $42 million. Fairfield has reinvested in its professional schools while ignoring the College of Arts and Sciences.
Greenwald said in a statement to The Mirror, “the unprecedented levels of rain for the Northeast have affected many institutions. Unfortunately we have also had water damage. Facilities have done a very good job under difficult conditions to assess the damages and develop plans for quick repairs.”
Specifically in regard to the PepsiCo Theatre, “On the academic side, we have made arrangements for temporary solutions while the repairs are underway. As a university we all are committed to ensure the quality of our educational experience is impacted as little as possible,” Greenwald added.
“The Campus Wide Master Plan calls for both new construction and upgrades to some of our aging infrastructure and this includes both dorms and academic buildings like Canisius, Donnarumma, Bannow Science Center and the Academic Commons at the library,” Frassinelli wrote in an email, “We also have regular maintenance efforts underway in buildings like the BCC which include replacing the roof that is almost at its end-of-life expectancy.”
Students will have to wait and see if these plans ever come to fruition or are simply washed away.