January 31, 2019

EDITORIAL: Sorry to Burst Your Pipes…

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The students of PHYS 1102: General Physics II have a problem. Last Tuesday, when a pipe burst in the attic of their home, Rockefeller Hall, a laboratory and a whole suite of professors’ offices were damaged, rendering them unusable and potentially costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. From the outside, their problem — cancelled sections and a damaged lab — might seem minor inconveniences. That may be because it isn’t your education that is affected by it. But you should be concerned, because the incident at Rockefeller points to a disappointing trend at Cornell. 

Rockefeller Hall’s administrative manager says the damages were the result of deferred maintenance, the process by which identified issues are put off due to “timing issues or lack of funding.” Deferred maintenance is a fact of life, and is sure to affect buildings as old as Rockefeller, but the reality is that campus is not decaying equally.

Over the last few years, we saw the completion of the Ag Quad Landscape Revitalization project, a largely aesthetic endeavor which focused on circulation patterns, paving, lighting and measures to ensure routine maintenance and the redevelopment of the Schwartz Center plaza, which Cornell deemed an “underutilized, concrete, sunken patio.”

Why was Rockefeller Hall left out?

Cornell was not built in a day, and it cannot be fixed in a day.

But to postpone needed maintenance past the breaking point, to dally until Cornell’s core academic function begins to suffer, while also embarking on shiny new projects — both cosmetic and, yes, in some cases substantive — positions the administration as out of touch with the students and faculty who use these buildings every day.

This issue is larger than a single burst pipe in Rockefeller and the potential hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage done by it. The Sun has previously lamented the sorry state of McGraw Hall, which remains crumbling (though we hope that the ongoing meeting of the Board of Trustees yields some decisive action on that project), and we continue to see every day the misplaced priorities in capital improvement.

The chemistry students of Baker Hall 200 take their notes on foldable tables better suited for the porch of a Collegetown fraternity annex. And yet, Cornell prepares to renovate not the learning spaces of Baker Hall but rather the Statler Ballroom, a space with limited academic utility, but significant fundraising purposes. Perhaps the ballroom visitors should be consigned to using the pong tables as well.

We understand that Cornell’s budget is finite. But when faced with a decision between the continued academic success and safety of the students, faculty and their environs and a new chandelier for Statler, our money should be on the former. And as we saw this week, completing deferred maintenance can even save future repair costs.

And of course, it would go a long way toward making students of all departments feel valued, because let’s face it: Those who spend the bulk of their class time in Gates Hall are having a different experience than those sitting in McGraw or Rockefeller.

Tomorrow will be another cold day in Ithaca. Who knows which pipes will burst?