On Monday, Oct. 12, while students who stayed on campus went without hot showers and heated dorm rooms, facilities operations employees were underground at an intersection of campus-wide piping stopping the flow of steam to the Gerstacker International House (I-House). While the campus heat and hot water outage was a temporary side effect, the cessation of steam for the I-house was a permanent step in preparation of the building’s scheduled demolition over winter break.
According to Ken Kolmodin, associate vice president for facilities operations, Albion is powered by a steam-controlled heating system. Steam is first created in three digital boilers, (two 600 horsepower, one 700 horsepower) and is then routed underground through a network of pipes before arriving in buildings to heat furnaces and provide hot water.
“Taking the steam down for the day was necessary to remove I-House from the steam-controlled heating system,” Kolmodin said. “We scheduled the construction during fall break when there would be a minimum of students on campus.”
Work began at 7:00 a.m. when facilities operations turned off campus-wide heat and hot water from the physical plant to cool the pipes enough to allow workers to handle them.
At the underground vault or intersection of steam pipes, located near Whitehouse Hall, the piping that led to I-House was disconnected. Afterwards, a “blank plate” that matched the diameter of the pipe was added, serving as a barrier to block steam from traveling onward to the building.
This fall, the Center for International Education (C.I.E), the program formerly housed in I-House, moved to the third floor of Whitehouse Hall, called I-Space. Following the demolition of I-House, the property will be landscaped, but a new building will not be constructed. The C.I.E will still operate out of Whitehouse Hall.
“Though we have many fond memories associated with that building, when all is said and done it is about the people involved,” said Perry Myers, modern languages and cultures department chair. “Our programming has not changed. We hope to soon have fond memories about I-Space events in Whitehouse.”
The international studies program (I.S.) collaborates closely with CIE, and according to Yi-Li Wu, chair of international studies, members of I.S. have some concerns about the loss of I-House.
“I-House was a distinctive feature of Albion College, and gave students a place for hands-on learning about other cultures and languages,” Wu said. “If we really want to internationalize the campus and increase global diversity at Albion College, then getting rid of I-House is a huge, huge step backwards. It may seem like we are saving money in the short term, but several years from now we will look back and see it as a missed opportunity.”
I-House was built in the 1970s, with different levels and towers that are not handicap-accessible. According to Kolmodin, the building would be difficult to renovate to meet handicap-accessibility standards.
“It was truly the atmosphere of the people living there and the dedication of everyone to get to know others and attend cultural events that really made the I-house a wonderful place to live,” said Alissa Bleecker, Barington, Ill., junior and former I-house R.A. “While I hate to see the I-house be demolished, I can understand why it is necessary.”
The piping maintenance involved the shut-off of hot water and heat to Whitehouse Hall, Seaton Hall, Mitchell Hall and all fraternity houses. By 5:30 p.m., the work was completed.