Students hot and bothered about central AC turnovers

Michelle Ma

Tamara Teslovich was fed up. During last week’s heat wave, theSlivka Residential College resident assistant received e-mails andwhiteboard notes complaining about the air-conditioning remainingshut down in the dorm.

Teslovich, a Weinberg senior, took residents’ complaints touniversity officials, even though she didn’t expect much of aresponse.

“There’s usually nothing we can do about (air-conditioning),”said Foster-Walker Complex RA Sameer Vohra, a Weinberg senior. “Theuniversity has a set policy, so it’s up to university housing’sdiscretion.

But residents’ wishes came true on Tuesday.

Facilities Management and Undergraduate Housing Officeadministrators collectively decided to switch to air-conditioningfor university buildings Tuesday, a change that usually takes placebetween mid-April and mid-May, said Gary Wojtowicz, interimdirector of Facilities Management Operations.

Air-conditioning for residence halls and academic buildings issupplied by NU’s Central Utility Plant west of the Lagoon. Theplant sends chilled water through pipes to campus buildings, andeach individual building controls the temperature from there.Buildings’ heating system also are controlled in this manner bypumping steam through the piping system.

Because most campus buildings’ chilled water or steam must gothrough the central plant, the heating-to-air-conditioningchangeover must be a collective, campuswide event, Wojtowiczsaid.

Housing Administration relays complaints to FacilitiesManagement, and after considering them, historical weather data andlong-range forecasts, engineers switch the systems, Wojtowicz said.This year the decision came after nighttime lows stabilized in themid- to upper-50s.

“The central system is very efficient,” Wojtowicz said.

But once the manual system is switched for the spring fromheating to air-conditioning, the university can’t switch back.Multiple changeovers each season would require too much time andlabor, Wojtowicz said.

Each building’s individual system still varies in efficiency.Buildings with two-pipe systems require manual valves to be closedand opened each season to provide either cooling or heating for thebuilding. This process isn’t simple.

“Valving over is labor-intensive and time-consuming,” Wojtowiczsaid. “We have a limited staff and over 105 buildings to take careof.”

University building engineers take about one hour for eachbuilding to switch the valves, Wojtowicz said.

Foster-Walker, Slivka, 1835 Hinman, Jones Residential Collegeand Kemper Hall are the residence halls connected to the centralutility plant for air-conditioning and heating.

Students in air-conditioned residence halls have mixed responsesto the one-time changeover.

The Foster-Walker area coordinator told first-floor RA DebbieRosmarin that the change to air-conditioning would have to waituntil weather conditions were fully stabilized.

“Most (residents) are smart and reasonable about understandingthis,” said Rosmarin, an Education senior.

But the upper floors of Foster-Walker felt the risingtemperatures, said Vohra, the Foster-Walker RA. Before Tuesday’sair-conditioning, Vohra said he heard grumbling in the halls aboutthe heat.

RAs can report complaints to supervisors and try to answerresidents questions, said Foster-Walker RA Steven Lavender. Butthey can’t make the air-conditioning come on.

“As RAs we don’t control heat and air-conditioning,” saidLavender, a Weinberg senior. “We are liaisons between residents anduniversity officials.”

1835 Hinman residents feel the effects of Tuesday’s changeover,said RA Tarak Shah, a McCormick senior.

“(Before the air-conditioning) a couple of rooms wereridiculously hot,” he said.

When Shah called housekeeping to report residents’ concerns, hewas told the air-conditioning wouldn’t be turned on until late Maybecause the weather might fluctuate. Shah said he doesn’t like thecentral chilled water system.

“We need something more responsive to the weather,” he said,”something more building-specific.”