Fumes, noise from campus construction interrupt classes in Sturges Hall

Construction in Sturges Quad has led to the flow of noxious smells and consistent heavy machinery noises into Sturges Hall. The effects of the construction have caused some faculty to move their classes and offices to alternative buildings. 

The underground infrastructure project in Sturges Quad has been underway since the beginning of the summer of 2017. The proximity of the construction to buildings, the warm temperature and open windows have allowed diesel exhaust fumes to become trapped in the building, according to Assistant Vice President for Facilities & Planning George Stooks. 

The spread of the fumes may not solely be attributed to windows being open, but rather general air circulation issues in Sturges, according to associate professor and chair of the history department Justin Behrend.

“There seems to be a problem in Sturges with air flow, since it’s a very old building,” Behrend said. “What probably is the case is that there’s negative air pressure in the building, so when air is leaving the building, it’s actually sucking air in from the Sturges Quad. I’ve had my window shut for a long time, but [the fumes are] seeping in because they’re being pulled in.” 

The smell became noticeable earlier last week when a faculty member in the history department pointed it out, according to Behrend, who with multiple other professors chose not to work in their offices several days last week. 

The harmful gases have caused the administration to work with the history department—which primarily resides closest to the construction—to relocate classrooms to higher floors and to move offices for history department faculty as well, according to Behrend. One professor thus far has permanently transferred their office, and many have completely relocated where their classes meet, according to Behrend.  

“We’re working with facilities to open up some office space for history faculty,” Behrend said. “Alternative office space to meet with students in particular is needed, especially as this is registration time … there’s more of a need to actually meet with students.” 

Faculty raised the issue with the Office of the Provost on Nov. 1, and as a result there have been inspections conducted around the building in order to identify the problems and generate solutions, according to Behrend. 

“We have worked at keeping the windows shut, double checking ventilation, mapping where the machines are going to be on a two-week period look ahead,” Stooks said. “We’re also taking some steps to tape some of the windows that are a little bit looser than others and we also brought in an indoor air quality expert to do some testing.” 

Stooks added that the college’s initial testing did not find anything that would indicate the building is in violation of specific regulations, but he understands why students and faculty find the building’s smell bothersome.

Aside from these circumstances, the campus’ construction project has not encountered any major problems, according to Stooks, who feels that potential issues like this could have been expected, and therefore avoided, by those in close proximity to the construction site. 

“We’ve had a couple of different meetings to try to discuss what we can do to mitigate the impact of this, but it is construction,” Stooks said. “We advertised it as being disruptive at the outset. Different people put different meanings to the word disruptive.” 

Construction will be moving away from Sturges in the spring semester, but similar conditions might return as the weather warms up, according to Stooks. The college is taking measures to move classrooms away to prevent major distractions to faculty and students, Stooks said.

Issues arising from construction, including noise complaints and the smell of fumes, were not anticipated by members of faculty in Sturges, according to Behrend. 

“The history department is frustrated by the reactive approach,” Behrend said. “There’s been a good reaction from the administration, but there wasn’t a lot of proactive changes.”

Presently, these circumstances do not create a favorable educational setting, according to Behrend. 

“There’s things that we need to do to have a learning environment where your mind isn’t pounding from the noise outside, but it’s another thing when the air you breathe is contaminated a bit,” Behrend said. “Nobody should have to work or learn in an environment like that.” 


News editor Malachy Dempsey contributed reporting to this article.u