Students surveyed, AC turned on early
March 29, 2012
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by Molly Crain
When Lexington experienced record-breaking temperatures in the 80s last week, Transylvania students, faculty and staff found it hard to beat the heat without air conditioning.
To the relief of many, the current energy policy — which states that the universal air conditioning system would not be turned on until April 15 — was overridden by a campuswide survey sent out by President R. Owen Williams.
Answered by students, faculty and staff, 79.2 percent of the 722 participants voted to turn the air conditioning on “as soon as possible.”
“It was perfectly reasonable given the summerlike temperatures,” said Sustainability Coordinator Angela Dossett.
Concerned about how students were dealing with the heat, Dossett made sure to call campus early Monday morning to check up on the residence hall situations.
“We do think about you all,” said Dossett.
Before the poll was sent out and the air conditioning was turned back on, Director of Residence Life Bob Brown received the majority of the heat from both students and parents, while other complaints found an outlet through Facebook and Twitter.
“There was a confusion,” said Brown. “The confusion was that there was a money issue, but really it was a sustainability (and) energy policy concern.”
Dossett agreed with Brown.
“We aren’t just trying to save money. The April 15 date was not chosen to make everyone suffer as long as we could, … but it was based on historical data,” said Dossett.
Recalling that Lexington experienced temperatures last Tuesday unmatched this early in the year since 1894, last week was certainly out of the ordinary. Students could be seen carrying recently purchased fans to their rooms late in the afternoon.
“We did have students that had serious concerns for not having air conditioning,” said Dean of Students Michael Vetter. “People that have asthma and allergies, people who were light sleepers and when you open the Broadway windows they can’t sleep. Some of the original thinking was that we could open up the buildings and it would be cooler. … That was not the outcome. … Many of our buildings are not built to have pass-through air.”
Senior J.P. Peckinpaugh shared her opinion on the matter by talking about her study-abroad experience.
“When I was abroad in Thailand last year the temperature would reach 100 degrees some days easily, and with no air conditioning, we had to manage,” Peckinpaugh said. “The difference, however, was that I was sleeping outside where there was constant airflow. Here in my dorm I had no airflow and I was sleeping in stagnant 80 degrees. … I was going to be sweating.”
Recognizing everyone’s struggle, the president, cabinet members, students and staff met to have a “re-look” at the current energy policy, according to Vetter.
“We decided that the dilemma is not saving money. That’s not the issue here. There is an issue of the equipment that we have and what it can and cannot do. On some of the buildings when you turn on the (air conditioning) you can’t get any more heat, … and for some you can,” said Vetter.
So why can’t we have air conditioning anytime we want it?
“There’s cooling systems that have to be filled with water,” said Dossett. “If the temperature drops and it reaches freezing, the water freezes, expands and damages the cooling towers. It’s a significant amount of water that is used, so it’s not something that should be repeatedly filled and emptied.”
To make the campus conversion to air conditioning, it takes the physical plant to provide “all hands on deck (for) three days to get everything up to speed,” said Dossett. “It takes a lot of time and buildup, making that conversion.”
Dossett has also been helping to update the energy policy to make sure we won’t have as much frustration in the future if there are warmer temperatures before April 15 next year.
“There is talk about including a trigger in the energy policy, if we reach 80 degrees prior to the April 15 line,” Dossett said.
Dossett would like to gather more information on how to best suit student needs.
“I would have hoped for a campus dialogue on the issue,” she said.