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  • Gia Patel, Staff Writer

Delay in boiler upgrades leaves first-year dorms without heat

Photo by Grace Shiffrin

In the Eastside dorms that house first-year students, Matthews residents have been met with no hot water for the last few months. Now, the heating system has been shut off in Matthews, Baxter and Belknap, meaning that these students have had no heat during some of the coldest recorded nights of this semester.

First-year students residing in these dorms were sent an email from housing regarding the opportunity to borrow space heaters and the guidelines for doing so. The email sent on Oct. 26 read, “We've been in communication with the maintenance department, and they report that the heat should be back up and running in Matthews within the next two weeks. The Baxter boilers need to undergo a series of inspections and tests to make sure that the system is working properly.” No other information was provided. 

When emailed, Director of Facilities Gary Grimm pointed to an email that he sent out on Oct. 31 to parents of Willamette students about the heating issues in Matthews and Baxter, which explained that the core cause lies in issues in upgrading the outdated boiler systems at the university. Grimm otherwise declined to be interviewed due to a busy schedule.

Grimm’s email read: “In 2022, Willamette’s Board of Trustees allocated $28 million in debt resources to improve the facilities & IT infrastructure on both our Salem and Portland campuses. Work started this past summer on our most significant project: the decentralization and upgrade of the Salem campus boiler system.” Decentralizing the steam boilers and replacing them with localized boilers “allows individual building control that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how we heat space and water in a dozen buildings on campus.” The first phase of this project started last summer, and aimed to replace and install new boilers in the Hatfield Library, Matthews Complex and the Sparks Athletic Center. 

However, these plans were met with unfortunate issues that “were out of our control such as staffing, work with vendors, and securing parts were challenges on all of our projects, leading to later completion dates than originally anticipated,” the email states. This includes the complication which occurred when vendors damaged Baxter Hall while working on the installation and replacement of boilers, which caused unanticipated delays. 

Space heaters and blankets are available through requests to the Facilities Request System or by calling Campus Safety if students need a heater over a weekend. Yet, for Alex Reeves (‘27), a resident of Belknap Hall, the process of receiving a space heater wasn’t an easy one. She wasn’t able to receive a space heater until Oct. 30, even though she requested one twice on Oct. 26 and twice again the next day, on Oct. 27.

Reeves shared, “My roommate had to go to the housing office on Monday. And then, not until after that did we get one.” When describing her experience with no heating, Reeves emphasized,“It has been horrible, especially without a space heater for a while,” and that there has been “little communication other than that you could fill a form for heaters and that they were giving blankets. That's it. Everything else that I've heard about it has been hearsay.” 

Flannery Sheets (‘27), a resident in Matthews Hall, echoed similar concerns. She said that housing has been “pretty communicative about the hot water situation, but they haven't really said anything about the heating, so that was kind of surprising.” The lack of heating has made Sheets “not want to be there [in her dorm] as much.” Yet, she highlights that a positive aspect of this experience has been “a comradery on the other people on my floor, and this idea that we are all in this together.” Other than creating a sense of community with the other residents of Matthew, Sheets describes the situation as “a little discouraging sometimes.”

In the email sent on Oct. 31, Grimms addressed that contractors are doing their best to address the heating problems in Matthews and Baxter, stating, “Our contractors are moving to 10-hour work days to get the boilers operational as soon as possible [in Matthews Hall]. We are looking at a completion and start-up date of Nov. 6. … [In Baxter Hall] our contractors are installing piping this week [of Oct. 22 to Oct. 27] and are scheduled to start installing the controllers next week [of Oct. 30 to Nov. 3] which should get the boilers operational.”

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