By David Loomis
INDIANA – On Thursday night, a dozen or so students and staffers gathered in the glass-walled conference room of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s year-old Center for Multicultural Student Leadership and Engagement. On two large screens, the audience watched “Green Book,” the 2018 Oscar-nominated film based on a true story of a touring black pianist and his white chauffeur navigating second-class public accommodations on the road in the Jim Crow American South of 1962.
Behind the audience is the renovated one-story lobby of Elkin Hall, the last of IUP’s open-access dormitories — opened in 1964, closed in 2016. The lobby houses a front desk, cushioned bench seating with charging stations and, up a few steps and down a hallway, administrative offices. The rest of the five-story building is empty, except for the center’s upstairs storage space.
Now, it’s one of the leakiest.
RAIN WATER DRIPS from the center’s year-old flat roof onto ceiling tiles in the lobby. Multi-color trash and recycling bins collect water under gaps in stained drop-ceiling tiles. White paint pops and bubbles on damp drywall. Seams open along a ceiling bulkhead. Charging stations are draped with clear plastic sheeting.
One student described the drips as a “symphony.”
“Last night, you could hear the water dripping down,” said James J. “Jim” Watta, the center’s student programming coordinator, on Thursday night in the center’s lobby outside the movie screening.
The problems have been reported up the chain to administrators, Watta said. And he has heard in response that “we need to wait until the weather breaks.”
But that response won’t hold water, Watta said, because the leaks aren’t recent.
“From the time this building’s been open, we’ve been plagued by leaks,” he said. “The leaks have been with us since January 2018, and things seem to be getting worse.”
INDEED, during Thursday night’s film screening, three university maintenance workers arrived to repair the center’s glass double front doors, which were not locking, Watta reported.
Watta and the workers bantered about “the system.” The center project’s contractor and university administrators were faulted – the contractor for substandard work, the university for lax oversight.
“This is what happens around here,” said one worker. “Contractors come in, they do the job, they walk away, and nothing gets done.”
The workers declined to provide their names.
WATTA RECOUNTED one event for which the system appeared to work efficiently.
Last fall, Daniel Greenstein, new chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, visited the IUP campus. For his stop at the multicultural center, Watta said, damaged ceiling tiles were replaced. When the chancellor departed, the new ceiling tiles were reclaimed.
“They didn’t want to ruin the new tiles,” Watta said.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE for repairs, said Watta and the maintenance workers. The warranty on such construction projects typically is one year.
“We’re right in that transition period for warranty stuff,” said one worker.
Theodore G, Turner, director of the multicultural center, did not respond to a Feb. 22 email requesting comment.
Richard A. Manslow, project manager in the IUP facilities, engineering and construction office, did not respond to a Feb. 24 email requesting comment.
Leaders of campus student groups associated with the center did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
“THE STAFF IS FRUSTRATED,” Watta said. “What’s the message this sends to students and staff? The opposite of compassion is not hate. It’s indifference. That’s what it feels like.”
On Saturday, Watta said he still could not lock the center’s front door.
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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