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uNDerground: The Tunnels of Notre Dame

Suzanna Pratt | Sunday, February 6, 2011

The question gets asked every year. When the weather gets cold and the snow falls horizontally, someone, usually a freshman — one of the ones who still doesn’t know how to navigate South Dining Hall at 6:30 pm and wears their lanyard around the neck — will ask, “Hey, aren’t there tunnels under the quad? Why can’t we use those to get to class when it’s cold out?”


Yes, there are tunnels beneath our feet. They transport the steam that heats all the buildings on campus, melting the snow over their passageways and leaving long patches of grass for the non-migratory geese to turn into mud pits. And there are several reasons why we can’t go in those tunnels when it’s cold outside, the least of which is that it’s just plain not allowed.


The steam tunnels have long been an enigma to the Notre Dame student body. Precious few current students have ever been inside these mythical passageways, and they will all probably tell you the same thing: They’re not all cracked up to be. The tunnels are exciting and cool because they are The Tunnels, the big mystery on campus. But in reality, they are cramped, dark, dirty and overwhelmingly warm.


Four main tunnels lead from the power plant to most buildings on campus. The passageways are narrow and the ceilings are low. There is only enough room to walk single file. The pipes and wires in the tunnels are not only at risk of being damaged if thousands of students were to walk by every day, but they also make it difficult to navigate the tunnels.


Unless you enjoy arriving to class covered in sweat and grime, the tunnels are not your friend. It is hot and gross down there. Brush against the wall and your fashionable designer coat or North Face parka will sport authentic tunnel dirt for the rest of the day. Maybe you are trying to rock for the vintage/grunge look, but probably not. The Ugg boots that you so carefully weatherproofed will track dust into the your dorm room and grind into the fibers of the carpet that your parents bought for you during Frosh-O. The weather outside may be cold, but I choose to wear a hat and a coat and to cut through buildings to get to class rather than to arrive coated in dust. Maybe that’s just me.