Library Welcomes Renovations to Heating System After Years of Extensive Damage

Byline: Xiaomeng Li

Posted: April 6, 2011

The John Stewart Memorial Library at Wilson College expects to begin a heating system renovation this summer.

On Wed, Feb. 16, Mary Hendrickson, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, as well as Jim Fisher, Vice President of Finance and Administration, sent out an all-campus email. They state: "[A]ctions will be taken to resolve problems with the heating system in the John Steward Memorial Library… We recognize that the library is the academic heart of the college. Physical plant staff have discovered that piecemeal changes to the aging heating system at the library are no longer cost-effective or judicious…"

Parts of Library Off-Limits

The library experienced severe problems with its heating system in the beginning of this semester. As a result, the computer lab, study rooms, lounge and the women's restroom in the basement of the building are all closed to the public so that the library can vent some of the heat outside. Right before Spring Break, the library also decided to close the periodical room downstairs to the public. Only library staff can retrieve the periodicals upon patrons' requests.

Student Reaction to Library Closures

Alexandre Howard ‘13 says, "I used the computer lab and classrooms downstairs quite a bit. It was very quiet downstairs and had excellent ‘study feel.' I would love to see the downstairs of the library renovated."

Beth Bush ‘11 says, "I used to go to one of the rooms in the basement of the library with a group of friends. Now we have to sit in someone's room or try to find a spot in one of the lounges on campus."

Examining the System Malfunction

So what exactly is the problem? According to Kathleen Murphy, Director of John Stewart Memorial Library, the heat system in the library utilizes steam heat, which is created by boiled water. "It is old-fashioned and very corrosive," says Murphy, "The pipes in the wall are rusted and now are bad enough that the steam is running in the walls instead of in the pipes." The steam leaks and heats up the floor, which causes issues like paint peeling off the walls.

200 Degrees Fahrenheit

The hottest spot in the library is the women's restroom. Murphy says the floor of the restroom reaches 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

In fact, the heating system has caused problems for quite a few years. "But it is always an isolated problem," says Murphy, "It only started to accelerate shown by the computer classroom downstairs." Murphy describes the current condition of that room as "a beauty spot turned to a nightmare." She says that classroom used to be one of the most popular spots in the library. When the library staff discovered the heat leakage in that room, they fixed it with the help of Physical Plant. However, "The pipes broke down the line and other places in the basement were also affected. And we realized that it was the whole system that needed to be fixed," Murphy recalls.

Long-term Problems

Dean Hendrickson acknowledges that the heating system in the library is a "long-term problem." Although Physical Plant "remedied small portions," the entire situation "could not be easily resolved."

On Fri, Feb. 25, the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Board of Trustees, which consists of representatives from faculty, staff, students and cabinet, had a regular meeting and discussed the problem of the library.

The library staff made a slide show with all the problems that the library currently experiences. "The committee was dismayed to see the deterioration of the library," says Hendrickson.

Plans to Renovate

At the meeting, the committee decided to hire an engineer to thoroughly study the heating system and choose the most appropriate new system for the library. Fisher put up ads identifying a firm that offered the most qualified engineer with the best price.

The Cost

The library estimates the cost of renovation to be $100,000 to $200,000. But according to Hendrickson, the engineer will determine the cost based on his examination of the library. The committee expects the engineer to come by the end of Mar. or the beginning of Apr.

Murphy says, "The whole series of events of the library caused the college to take a look at it. This is a good thing in a way because the library has been neglected as a building by the college in the past." In addition, Murphy mentions that, not only the library, but "maybe the buildings next door such as Warfield and Lortz need to be checked too because they were built in the same period and now having the same heating problems."

Hendrickson responds that, "The priority is now the library. We have been watching Warfield carefully and if problems develop, actions will be taken."

The renovation will begin after this year's graduation and go on throughout the summer to ensure minimum inconvenience for students.

Last Updated: March 5, 2012

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