Lights left lit in empty university dormitories

A view through a window in Bush Hall. Photo by CG photograher Brenna Hettler.

By Kelly Doran, CG News

Three dormitories are vacant on Ohio University’s campus, but emergency lights still brighten the halls.

The dorms, Bush on East Green and Weld and Ewing on South Green, have been empty for all or part of the year, but emergency lights still turn on automatically at night for safety reasons, said Beverley Wyatt, associate director of residential housing .

Weld has been vacant the entire year in the interest of energy conservation and staff efficiency. Ewing had residents throughout fall quarter and was vacated completely after the first four weeks of winter quarter. Bush was vacated at the end of fall quarter for renovation, Wyatt said.

A vacant dorm shows about 50 percent savings in energy usage, Michael Gebeke, executive director of facilities management, said.

Ewing used 20,720 kilowatt-hours in September 2010 and has been decreasing ever since, to 8,873 kwh in February, Gebeke said in an email. Bush had its meter disconnected, making a reading impossible, and Weld has been vacant all year, so that does not show a change in energy usage.

Although the dorms have been vacated, they are ready to be used, which means that the heat and water stay on, Gebeke said. A crew goes through all the vacated buildings every three to four months to make sure there are no major issues, like a leak in the building.

A building will only be completely shut down if the university no longer plans to use it because the buildings deteriorate quickly, he said.

OU vacates dormitories for energy conservation, staff efficiency and in order to renovate, Wyatt said. Vacant dormitories give OU the opportunity to update carpeting, tile and painting and to do some maintenance. They also save OU money as labor is generally cheaper during the school year than over the summer.

Vacant dormitories also give OU the opportunity to host parents and siblings during special weekends. That generates revenue for the university and gives family members a convenient place to stay while visiting, she said.

The only catch is that the staff has to remember to go to buildings like Ewing and Weld, which have individual heating systems, and turn the heat up a week before the special weekend. Otherwise the building will be too cold for the visitors.

Bush is on the steam plant, which means there is limited control over the heating, Wyatt said. As Bush is renovated, it will be taken off of the steam plant and put on a chilled water system, which allows OU to have more control over the building’s temperature.

From now on, any building OU builds or renovates will be minimum LEED silver certified, she said. LEED certified means that the building meets certain environmental standards from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Wyatt said OU will try to have at least one dorm vacant next year as well, but it will depend on the student population and how high freshman enrollment is.

“That will always be one of the things we will strive to do and it’s not to inconvenience students, it’s to really try to make the best use of what resources we have,” she said.

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