Finals week fades to black at OSU

Finals week fades to black at OSU
As if finals weren't hard enough, some students at Oregon State University had to study this week by candlelight -- after power was knocked out to part of campus for two days.

"There are enough surprises that happen to us here, that it's kind of part of the job as well," explains electrician Richard Brookes.

Welcome to life on the maintenance beat at OSU, where the out-of-the-ordinary has become routine.

A sewer collapse. A power outage to Gilbert Hall. A separate outage in two other halls -- all in just the past two weeks.

The latest outage this week hit hard, for students in Bloss and Finley halls, where last-minute cramming turned to a hunt for a flashlight.

"We had to do 'fire watch' throughout the night, so every hour we had to do rounds, and things like that," recalls Stephanie Beamer, a Resident Assistant at Finley Hall. "So it definitely added stress to it all, makes people a little more crazy I guess."

"It couldn't have been worse in terms of the timing of the academic term," explains Eric Hansen of OSU Housing & Dining Services, "but it was amazing how the students and staff kind of coped with the situation."

Coping soon turned creative -- with the power out in the Arnold dining hall, cooks set up a barbecue on the quad.

Meanwhile, crews got to work to fix the glitch.

Crews here say they have enough regular maintenance to do on a daily basis to keep themselves plenty busy. Now, you throw in an emergency -- or two -- and they're working overtime. Unfortunately, these surprises are becoming, well, less surprising.

"We are seeing more and more of these failures," explains Director of Facilities Services Vincent Martorello, "because of the age of the system. And the lack of maintenance dollars that we could have provided in the past is catching up with us."

Martorello says, with maintenance budgets often the first to get cut, more and more work gets put off -- the kind of work that would prevent these kinds of outages.

"I just think that the need that we have now," Martorello says, "at a university systemwide basis is outgrowing the supply."

But until someone comes up with a solution, students might want to keep those flashlights handy.

Officials estimate that, in order to upgrade all campus infrastructure, and get facilities back to a maintainable level, the cost could approach $300 million.