Please Pardon Our Mess!

The path you used to take to class in Birge Hall may now be blocked by metal fences, big pits, and the machines digging them. What’s going on? The Newsletter sat down with Kurt Stephenson, Associate Director of Facilities in the College of Letters and Science. Kurt explained that the Lathrop Drive Utility Project is upgrading electrical, sewer, water, steam, and chilled water lines deep beneath the ground. “Some of the infrastructure being replaced is 100 years old” and with each new dig, “contractors don’t know exactly what they are going to find”.

construction equipment in the space between Birge and Sterling Hall
Utilities upgrades have torn up the passage along the east side of Sterling and Chamberlin Halls.
view through chain link fence to construction area with mounds of dirt and pipes waiting to be laid down.
Students find that chain link fences and construction are blocking off their preferred routes.

Despite the university’s efforts to anticipate and address the “wayfinding challenges”, students making their way through the Botany Garden up to Bascom Hill find they cannot skirt around Birge Hall. Instead, they enter one of its back doors and get lost on the basement floors. They ask, “Is this Van Vleck?” and “How do I get out of here?” While they inadvertently pick up some botanical knowledge in the process, Kurt insists that is not the project’s goal. The goal of the big dig is to make the utilities supporting Birge and other buildings in the area “more efficient and easier to maintain”, adding “and we’ll know where they all are.”

a crane blocks the loading dock while moving materials
A common sight at the foot of Birge Hall these days.

The many plans to mitigate disruptions included protecting trees like the large Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) near the greenhouses, and restoring the landscape in the wake of the project. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but we can all put up with some mess on the path toward greater efficiency and sustainability.