By Chelsie Derman
The Signal met with President Kathryn Foster and Vice President of Student Affairs Sean Stallings on Tuesday, Sept. 20 to discuss topics such as the construction around campus and the situation regarding Covid and Monkeypox.
As most students at the College know, the campus has been taken over by construction. There is construction going on right between the Brower Student Center and the social science building, forcing students to swerve around the work, and construction smack in the middle of the science complex and the Green Hall (otherwise known as the Quimby Prairie).
But why is the construction happening now, rather than over the summer or during previous semesters?
According to President Kathryn Foster, there was “an emergency” over the summer. After all, there is a lot that students and faculty cannot see on the surface.
“There is The College of New Jersey that you see above the ground, and then there’s The College of New Jersey that’s under the ground,” Foster said, “and that’s all of the water lines, the steam lines, the sewer lines, the fiber-optic lines, the fire alarms, cables, etc.”
Over the summer, several pipes burst between the library and the science complex, which is the area of the oldest pipes.
“We went down under the ground to fix a pipe so now the, let’s say water, can stream through that much more readily than it used to, and that put pressure on this other corroded pipe that was 20 yards down, so we kept getting whack a mole,” Foster said. “You just kept having problems under the ground.”
However, before the pipes broke over summer break, the College had already started creating their ten-year underground infrastructure plan to fix all of the pipes on campus. The College wanted to go to all of the different zones on campus and get the pipes all fixed at once.
“Our philosophy was, if you’re going to go down into the ground and fix one pipe, well you have the ground open, fix them all,” Foster said.
Foster referred to buildings like Green Hall, Roscoe West Hall and Kendall Hall as the “guts of this campus.”
“Those pipes under that area are in the vicinity of 70 or 80 years old right now,” Foster said, “and a 70 or 80 year old pipe just doesn’t make it anymore. So we have been chipping away at these underground systems to try to get down to under the ground.”
The College has been going underground, trying to find out what is breaking and where the pipes
are corroded in order for buildings to have things like heat, hot water and air conditioning.
“It’s all what they call the HVAC systems,” Foster said.
If it had not been for the emergency pipe burst over the summer, the campus most likely would not have so much construction right in the center.
“It’s not the order we would have done it,” Foster said. “We would have started from the outside and worked in, but that said, it is absolutely necessary, essential that we do it.”
Foster hopes that the current construction will be over during the colder months.
“We’re doing a hurry-up offense to figure if we can get this part of it done, and then we’ll start doing other parts of it,” Foster said.
However, students will have a long time to wait before construction finally goes away — and will most likely see construction for the rest of their time at the College.
“It’s no different from your own home, fixing things that are behind the walls,” Foster said. “It’s not as visible and exciting as it would be to have a new building go up or to do a new interior design, but it is absolutely critical that we get this done.”
The cooling burst
On Monday Sept. 19, the College sent out an email about a cooling burst — leading to a chilled water outage — which was caused by work on Quimby’s Prairie. Foster said that was another emergency that The College had to fix.
“They had to take the pressure down and build the pressure back up after they fixed it. It should have been a 24 hour fix so maybe it was due to age,” Foster said.
Foster said the College tries to be as transparent as possible, communicating with their students and faculty. She also said they try to keep up with fixing infrastructure.
“It’s like changing the air filters in your car — don’t wait until it’s falling apart and just can’t breathe at all—do it periodically so we do that in IT pretty well,” Foster said. “I think regrettably with the underground stuff it was out of sight, out of mind, we never really did it. I don’t know exactly what that cause was, but that was a quick emergency.”
Current Covid-19 situation on campus
As of Sept. 16, The College had 43 active cases and 165 since the first day of classes, according to Foster.
“I want to be clear that a lot of those cases are people that had no symptoms,” Foster said. “We all did our testing that first week or so, and we were not surprised to find some people were actually carrying the virus, so we haven’t had, cross our fingers, emergency outbreaks, but we have had a steady setup of cases.”
The College still offers isolation rooms in the New Residence Hall. While some students choose to reside there, others decide to go home.
“On the Covid side, I would say from a campus point of view, if you can tell from the fact we’re not in masks right now, we’re treating this as a virus that’s still in the air and people will carry it, but not as one that will shut down the campus and have us go back,” Foster said. “I say that with some reservation because, again, remember last January when we got the new strain of Omicron, we did keep masks back on. The faculty continue to have the authority to choose to have their class be a mask class, so that might be true in some of your classes, but we’re moving forward and the cases are what people call a ‘predictable number of cases.’”
The College decided to take its Covid dashboard offline, and Foster explained that the board was not a good indicator of the current Covid situation on campus.
“It’s not so much as that it’s removed because we’re keeping track of it still — we could still put it up,” Foster said.
Foster said the dashboard was not a good indicator because the real indicator is how many people need to go to the hospital or have severe illness.
“We thought it was misleading — it had been misleading for over a year, what that number meant and represented,” Foster said. “So although people like seeing that number and tracking it, it didn’t have the same meaning that it had in the beginning, so that’s why we decided to take it down.”
Vice President of Student Affairs Sean Stallings added: “Another driver to that number being misleading is that there are far more home tests that people were taking, so those aren’t on the dashboard.”
The College sent out an email to all students on Aug. 25 about Monkeypox, detailing how the virus spreads, what to do if you get it and a list of symptoms and prevention.
When The Signal asked Foster how many Monkeypox cases are at the College, Foster responded, “Zero cases. Zero cases of Monkeypox.”
She said the email sent out had prepared students and faculty, informing them about the Monkeypox protocol. Because the isolation period is long — two to three weeks — The College understood that the virus could be a concern for people.
“Monkeypox cases have gone down in the vicinity, in the region, so we’re hopeful that we will get through that period,” Foster said. “But you know, there’s always viruses out there. We’ll just always be watching for that as time goes on.”