Chicago State students in hotels while residence hall without heat, hot water

Chicago Tribune

Chicago State University students are being housed in hotels after an underground pipe burst on campus, leaving the residence hall and the student union without heat or hot water, schools officials said.

The pipe burst around 2:30 p.m. Friday, forcing the closure of both buildings on the Far South Side campus, according to the facilities director Monique Horton. Students were on Thanksgiving break at the time and no classes have been affected.

University spokeswoman Reanetta Hunt said Tuesday that 157 students are affected by the dorm closing. More than 90 percent of Chicago State’s student body commutes to the campus, where enrollment is 3,171 students, interim President Rachel Lindsey said.

“When it became clear that heat and hot water would not be working in either the Residence Hall or the Student Union building, we immediately made plans to provide our residential students with warm, safe accommodations,” Lindsey wrote in a message on the university website posted Tuesday. “Because this occurred over the weekend, we were able to ensure that students did not lose any class time.”

The university began providing shuttles Monday to transport students to and from their hotels. Shuttles leave hotels between 5 a.m. and 4 p.m. and depart campus between 8 a.m. and 10:15 p.m., according to the schedule on the university website. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are being provided to students on campus at the university library. Meals also are being provided at the students’ hotels, Lindsey said.

The accommodations will remain in place until the pipe is repaired and heat and hot water restored to the buildings, Lindsey said.

“The pipe damage that we are addressing concerns old pipes that are underground,” Lindsey said. “While we do not know the extent of the damage or how long the repairs will take, we are asking contractors to work expeditiously to return both buildings to their normal statuses as soon as possible.”

This week is the final week for fall classes. Final exams start Monday.

On Tuesday, the majority of students arrived at and left campus by car or CTA buses. A few students were allowed inside the dorm Tuesday afternoon to collect belongings. One student, who declined to talk, left the residence hall with a backpack and a rolling suitcase.

The closure of the student union building also forced a dozen university departments to move their office spaces, according to a note posted to the entrances. Most of the departments, including the dean of student affairs, were moved to the academic library.

A portion of the land outside the student union building was fenced off. Excavating equipment was inside the work area, near a hole in the concrete a few feet deep.

This is not the only time Chicago State has had troubles with heating and hot water in its buildings over the past year.

An underground water main broke last fall, which also affected heat and hot water to the student union and residence hall. Repairs and the rental of temporary equipment cost the university more than $1 million, according to university budget documents recently submitted to the state.

Hunt confirmed the problem with the infrastructure is the same one that cut off heat and hot water to the same two buildings last fall. She said officials did not have a firm timetable for when the repairs could be made.

The university also has had repeated problems with the boilers that heat many of the campus buildings. In December 2016, all three hot water generators failed, forcing the university to rent equipment at a cost of $1.2 million. In February, the temporary equipment malfunctioned and the university had to shut down for several hours. Maintenance records show that the university was charged $600,000 for a rental boiler.

Some of the boilers date to when Chicago State moved to 95th Street and King Drive in 1972, meaning that equipment is well past its useful life, Horton said. The university has requested money from the state to replace all of the equipment but has never gotten approval, Horton said.

The continued infrastructure problems come at a time when the university is trying to stabilize its operations after years financial struggles and leadership changes.

Chicago State was among the public universities hardest hit by the state budget debacle and was sanctioned by its accrediting agency in July 2016 over concerns about its financial stability and overall organization. The warning from the Higher Learning Commission said the university risked being out of compliance with requirements to ensure its finances could sustain normal operations and that leaders should implement broader strategic planning.

Commission representatives re-evaluated the university in the fall and removed the sanction early this month, according to a letter sent to Lindsey and posted on the Higher Learning Commission website. The university was notified of the decision Nov. 15.

Commission officials said the university demonstrated sufficient finances to operate through the school year, thanks in part because of the state budget passage over the summer that allocates operating dollars and student Monetary Award Program grants. Accrediting officials also said school leaders showed improvement in their planning around enrollment, including strategies for boosting recruitment, retention and graduation rates.

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