Lack of Air Conditioning has Atherton Union Sweating


Photo By: Amy street

Photo By: Amy street

Atherton Union will be without air conditioning for the next six to eight weeks.

Rich Michal, executive director of facilities, said the 21-year-old cooling towers that sit south of Jordan Hall need to be replaced.

“This winter was especially hard on everything,” Michal said. “So we decided now’s the time, let’s replace it and run the risk of having it down for six weeks in April and May verses having it go down in the middle of the summer and having to go without AC for six to eight weeks in June, July or August.”

Michal said there are areas in Atherton that will not be affected, which include the bookstore, Starbucks, The Marketplace in Atherton Union, and the computer lab.

The remaining areas, such as the second and third floor offices that house the Internship and Career Services offices, will be provided with portable air conditioning units.

“Before we learned that we were going to have to do this, we reached out to those individual stakeholders and said, ‘Here’s the situation, here’s the exposure, and here’s what we can do to mitigate that,’” Michal said.

Julie Schrader, Internship and Career Services associate director, said it could “get a little stuffy” without air conditioning in the upcoming weeks.

“Especially when we’re meeting with students,” Schrader said. “We do want to make them feel as comfortable as possible. And these two other offices over here are fairly small, so it does heat up and cool down fairly easily in the smaller offices.”

The spring and fall transitions are a rough time of year for dealing with the school’s old heating and cooling systems, Michal said.

“You can’t heat and cool at the same time in a lot of our buildings,” he said. “Until we get to the point here we’re looking at the forecast saying, ‘That’s when we make the decision.’ So we still have a 30-to 60-day window where we’re not going to need air conditioning.”

Schrader said there are always a couple weeks where temperatures in the building are a little cooler or a little warmer than she would prefer.

“The problem is the way we set the system,” Michal said. “We were trying to save money. If it’s 50 to 55 degrees out, we don’t want people using the heat. You know, there’s a point where we also have these setbacks in the system that if it’s cool enough or warm enough outside, we don’t want people using AC or heat, ideally.”

This is not the first time this incident has occurred, Schrader said.

“This happened last summer too, when the air conditioning went out and (maintenance) brought out the air conditioning units, which definitely helped control that stuffiness,” Schrader said. “Not having air conditioning can definitely be an uncomfortable situation, but I think they’re doing all they can to help with that.”

The maintenance crew cut a screen out of the windowpane in Schrader’s office last summer to allow for a tube that provides the air intake.

Schrader said portable air conditioners help in these situations spite of taking up space.

The PuLSE office and Campus Club  will not be provided with portable air conditioning units. The PuLSE office might move to a different location if it becomes too warm, Michal said.

Mary Huser, PuLSE office manager, said she is hoping for a cool spring.

“Within the next four weeks, I’m going to dress accordingly,” Huser said. “I’ll open the windows, and I’ll probably wear more dresses and flats than slacks in the next couple weeks. I’ll have something cool to drink at my desk, and just muddle through.”

Michal says Butler hopes to increase the air flow in C-Club to lower temperatures.

A few C-Club employees said they were not aware of the current situation.

Joe Sisk, a C-Club cashier, said he did not know the air conditioning was down.

“I’ve been working utilities, so I haven’t worried about it yet,” Sisk said. “The only place I would be worried about is behind the grill. I think it would be horrible because then there’s no relief. At least you have the cool air coming from outside or from a side door. But if it’s hot everywhere, then it’s going to be especially hot next to a grill where you’re cooking some food.”

When the time comes though, Sisk said he is pretty sure nothing will change.

“I’m still going to have to work,” he said. “I won’t be able to be like, ‘I’m hot and I’m tired.’ The best thing I can do for myself is not wear an undershirt, or maybe no underwear. But who wears no underwear to work?”

Taelor McCallum, a C-Club cook, said she was not aware of the situation either, but she said as long as workers have fans they should be OK.

Sisk said he is not aware of being provided any fans because his managers have not talked to him about the situation yet.

“I mean, I personally probably won’t ask,” he said. “I highly doubt anyone else would ask, but even if they did ask, I’m not sure what the approval would be on that.”

McCallum said she does not think food preparation will be a problem.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect the safety, but it might affect the comfort,” Michal said. “Even with air conditioning, a lot of times they’re already working over a fryer or a grill or around an oven. We’re not going to do anything that’s going to threaten the safety of the food preparation or any of the Aramark employees that are working back there.”

The Reilly Room will also be affected by the lack of air conditioning.

Michal said the Reilly Room is an area of concern, but  summer events in the room can be more easily planned in only the cooler parts of the day, such as morning and evening.

Michal said maintenance has already acquired portable units from the four-day power outage over Fourth of July weekend in 2011.

“There were certain areas where, even if people weren’t there, the temperature level can’t drop below a certain level,” he said. “So we’ve acquired portable units, and we have the ability to rent units for events like that.”

Michal said planning for worst-case scenarios is just part of the job.

“Part of it is just the challenge of being on a campus with building and utilities and infrastructure where a lot of it is over 80 years old,” Michal said.

Although the lack of air conditioning could potentially cause some discomfort, Huser is still optimistic about the end result,

“Six weeks would put us at the end of May, I guess, and eight weeks would put us in the middle of June,” she said. “Typically the worst part of summer in Indianapolis is July and August. So we still might be OK.”