A sewage backup in Davenport College this week was the latest in a series of recent facilities problems, some of which University officials said are linked to decades of neglected maintenance.
The backup, which yielded a lingering stench in three entryways last Sunday, came on the heels of damage caused by flooding to Connecticut Hall and several collections in Sterling Memorial Library. Officials said the recent problems are partly the result of a period when the University took poor care of its infrastructure, and will gradually be rectified by an ongoing maintenance initiative. But some critics said Yale is not doing enough preventative maintenance in the short term.
Administration officials said they have been working since the early 1990s to replace the University’s failing infrastructure, which had suffered from roughly 40 years of neglect. Deputy Provost for Undergraduate and Graduate Programs Lloyd Suttle said he expects problems like those of the last several weeks to lessen as the improvements continue.
“We’re not done with fixing things that really have been allowed to deteriorate over decades, but we’re making sure that once we fix them, they’re not deteriorating anymore,” Suttle said.
The centerpiece of Yale’s plan is the Capital Replacement Charge, a special maintenance reserve fund that will draw approximately $177 million from the University’s 2007 operating budget. After the program is fully funded in 2010, it will cover approximately $200 million in annual maintenance costs.
The plan is based on the cost of replacing every component of every building type on campus, and funding is set aside to ensure that each component can be replaced separately before it degrades. In theory, officials said, Yale will never again have to shut down residential colleges for large-scale renovations, since their systems will be replaceable on a piece by piece basis.
“We have a policy laid down by the Yale Corporation that we will not let our infrastructure deteriorate, that we must make sure our operating budget takes care of our buildings, that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past,” Suttle said.
But Local 35 President Bob Proto said Yale should begin spending more money on preventative maintenance immediately.
“Right now, Yale has a workforce that basically puts out fires,” he said. “When there’s no heat in the building or when power’s out, we do a lot of fixing and repairing.”
Director of Utilities Joseph Nadolny attributed the recent problems in part to the increasing size of the infrastructure, which he said is adding an extra strain on aging systems.
“Anything has a life expectancy, and in some of the systems, we are facing those,” Nadolny said. “We have comprehensive maintenance procedures in effect, and we’re trying to improve them at all times,” he said.
In the latest incident, an unknown problem with outside piping connected to Davenport College caused a sewage leak in the basement, Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld said. The leak caused an acute odor that he said was mostly eliminated by Thursday.
“We take these things really seriously,” Schottenfeld said. “It’s horrible for people who are exposed to it.”
But Schottenfeld said Davenport has seen far fewer facilities problems on the whole since it was renovated last year.
“Before it was renovated, there were a set of old steam pipes that could blow at any point and leak,” he said. “We’ve had by far fewer problems than pre-renovation.”
Last week, a leaking radiator caused flooding in Connecticut Hall — the oldest standing building in New Haven — damaging two portraits of former deans hanging in the historic Faculty Room. On Jan. 7, a steam pipe burst, forcing Machine City to close and damaging several thousand books in Sterling Memorial Library, including a valuable collection of newspapers from the Cambodian genocide. Leaks have also caused a loss of hot water in Jonathan Edwards College and a loss of chilled water in the Becton Engineering and Applied Science Center.
Officials said the recent spate of piping problems caught them off guard, but that overall, the University has not experienced more facilities problems than in previous years. Suttle said some leaks are inevitable given the size of Yale’s infrastructure, which includes about 240 buildings and 26 miles of piping.
“Any time you’ve got that much facility, things are going to break,” he said. “It’s not my sense that it’s any more or less than usual.”