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SMC students confused over closed tunnels

Alicia Smith | Sunday, January 24, 2010

As students make the slippery trek across Saint Mary’s College campus in the cold, snow-covered months of winter, many long for the days of the warm underground tunnels that combated the wintry conditions. As they trudge through the snowy sidewalks, some wonder what happened to the passageways. Some speculate as to why they were closed.

And some just dream about them opening once more.

“I do wish the tunnels were still open. It would make my life so much easier during this winter weather,” sophomore Molly Farrell said. “Because I walk with crutches, snow and ice make my everyday life very difficult. I have to rely on security for a ride to and from my different classes and this really hinders my independence.”

The network of tunnels connects many of the older buildings on campus. There are also tunnels connecting the Cushwa-Leighton Library, LeMans Hall and the Student Center, Bill Hambling, director of facilities, said.

The tunnels, owned by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, were declared unsafe by then- building commissioner Don Fozo.

Fozo has since retired. 

Hambling said the card readers were removed from the tunnels on Dec. 22, 2004.

“They were closed by the county’s building commissioner. They are primarily utility tunnels, and they were used by years by students,” Hambling said.  “The big issue was high pressure steam, high voltage electricity and confined space.”

The tunnels, which were originally created for utility purposes, had exposed steam and electricity pipes that proved hazardous, Hambling said. Additionally, there were not enough exits in case of emergency.

“We were violating all kinds of codes at that time,” Hambling said.

In order to repair the tunnels to make them up to code, Hambling said, the College would have to seal off all the pipes, as well as create more exits.

“First off, the difficult part would be sealing off the high pressure steam lines that feed the campus. That would be very costly,” Hambling said. “Creating exits out of the space [so they] would not be considered dead-end corridors. The spans are too long without any way of getting out.”

When the tunnels closed, students were sad to see them go and longed for the day they would be open for student use one again.

“I would be excited if the tunnels opened back up because that would mean that I would walk through warm air instead of out in the cold,” sophomore Jordan Bartrom said.

With the tunnels re-opened, students could once again have the warmth and convenience the tunnels offered.

Hambling said, however, that the likelihood of repairing the tunnels for student use was slim, though if money were provided, it would be possible to make repairs so students could once again utilize the tunnels.

“I’m not saying that it’d be impossible, but it would be very, very costly. We’d have to create more exits, make sure that the exposed energy was concealed,” Hambling said. “It’d be something we’d have to research. I’m not saying it’s impossible.”

One tunnel deemed safe and running from LeMans Hall to the Student Center is still available for student use.

“There isn’t any energy in that tunnel. No high-pressure steam, no high voltage electricity and its not a dead-end corridor. There are exits at both ends,” Hambling said.

Hambling said he would love to see the tunnels open again.

“What I love about the tunnels, when I get a chance to talk to alumnae, is the nostalgia that goes with it,” Hambling said. “It seems to be one of the things most alumnae remember when they come back to campus.”