Replacing infrastructure must prioritize student housing

The now demolished Connecticut Commons residence hall. (File photo/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut has begun replacing failing infrastructure throughout the Storrs campus. According to a Sept. 22 report from Annabelle Orlando of The Daily Campus, the university is seeking to replace steam pipes and water lines, some of which date back to at least 1914. There are benefits to be had from these updates, such as cutting down on water and energy usage, especially through increased efficiency and the correction of persistent problems related to aging infrastructure.

The university has said these updates were primarily undertaken to cut down on class cancellations. Given the rarity of class cancellations due to infrastructure problems, the university should focus these repairs on student housing, which has suffered from outages and potential water-quality issues up through this semester.

Outages are an extremely rare occurrence in Storrs, chiefly due to the campus’ self-reliance for electricity. However, incidents such as last February’s massive power outage, can have a dramatic impact on students and faculty. The Feb. 2016 power outage left 14 buildings without power, after a “manhole cover outside Laurel was also blown out of its housing.”

While this outlier of an event impacted the course schedule of faculty and students, the more troubling impact was on student housing. A Feb. 4 Daily Campus report on the outage noted the now-demolished Connecticut Commons dormitory had been “evacuated, and residents have been told that the building will be closed between one and five days.”

Class cancellations serve as an inconvenience; however, the mandatory evacuation of a residence hall for a power outage, with no direction beyond “stay with a friend,” is beyond inconvenient for impacted students. Updating infrastructure should seek to primarily minimize this occurrence, and potential water-quality issues for dormitories that could cause a similar evacuation.

As the university continues to expand, the aging skeleton of this campus will require an overhaul. A modern university cannot exist on an archaic infrastructure. While the university should do all in their power to limit class cancellations, student housing inconveniences caused by failing infrastructure are more pressing. While coursework can be made up or rescheduled, an incident like the power outage of last February and the evacuation of an entire dormitory must be avoided.