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Save the tunnels

Molly Acker | Wednesday, December 1, 2004

It is January at Saint Mary’s. It’s about 25 degrees outside, and you have just stepped out of the shower and your friends are waiting to go to dinner. Clearly it would not be smart to go to the dining hall with wet hair. Instead you compromise with the girls, throw on some shorts and flip-flops and take the tunnels to Haggar for dinner. Or let’s say it is 1 a.m. on a snowy night in February. Your girlfriend in Le Mans has just gotten the ax from her boyfriend, and she needs a shoulder to cry on. You don’t want to walk outside in the cold by yourself so late at night, and so you run over in the tunnels.

If you go or went to Saint Mary’s, I am sure that you have been in a similar predicament, and have first-hand knowledge that our tunnels can really come through in a pinch. They are a simple luxury that generations of Saint Mary’s women have used and appreciated.

I recall that during freshman orientation we were taken on a complete tour of campus, and we were then shown how to navigate the tunnels. Little did I know how often they would come in handy over the next two years. Sure, they always feel like they are about a hundred degrees. And, yes, the pipes are kind of old and often leaking. Nevertheless, the tunnels of Saint Mary’s are an institution of convenience that has been in place for nearly a century.

On Nov. 22 we were informed that the tunnels would be shut down for pedestrian use on Dec. 18. This has raised a lot of questions and many complaints among the students. Not only does it seem like an inopportune time to close the existing tunnels (what with the onset of winter and the inevitable rash of pre-Valentine’s Day break-ups that will require consoling), but the school has also just constructed a new tunnel to connect Le Mans with the new student center.

The letter addressed to the Saint Mary’s community stated that the steam lines, electric power, water lines, communications and other systems that run through the tunnels are old and no longer meet restrictive code requirements. They fear that the pipes are potentially hazardous to those using the tunnels, should something happen.

It seems to me that if these pipes are so dangerous, then they should be repaired rather than just shut off from pedestrian access. Judith Johns, CEO of the Holy Cross Services Corporation, also reported that Saint Mary’s College does not own the pipes. Instead, they are owned by the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. While the Congregation may not have sufficient funds to pay for the necessary repairs, there are others who do.

I spoke with Barbara Wade, the Director of Communications of the Order, about how much it would cost to make the necessary upgrades. She said, “The issue is not a matter of simply upgrading the existing utility tunnels but rather one of building a completely new and separate tunnel system designed for pedestrian use. The logistics, not to mention the expense, of mapping out such a separate system amid present building and construction on campus, indicated the prohibitive nature of such a project. For this reason no estimates were solicited.” This may be true, but after speaking with many alumni and current students I have learned that there are many members of the Saint Mary’s community who would be willing to donate money to save the tunnels.

The tunnels may not seem like they should be that important, but if you have ever been a student at Saint Mary’s then you probably felt a little sad and maybe a bit angry when you heard they are to be closed. Ladies, let’s not let them take our tunnels away from us or from future SMC Chicks. Even if it takes years before they are able re-open, let’s pass the hat around and champion the cause of saving our tunnels!

Molly Acker is a junior communications and humanistic studies double major at Saint Mary’s. Her column appears every other Thursday. She can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.