Downhill Manholes Disturb Campus Life

Caroline Fassett, Assistant News Editor

If any students, faculty, or staff have been roaming about downhill campus, it’s likely that they’ve noticed curls of steam emanating from manholes. Approximately two weeks ago, the underground steam line near the Elaine Langone Center (ELC) and the intersection of Moore Avenue and Seventh Street began leaking, which, as stated in an email sent to the student body via Bucknell Campus Notice, emits “a ‘rotten egg’ smell.”

The fact that the email was sent to the student body approximately two weeks after the problem was made prevalent on campus bothered some students.

“I think that it’s annoying that the email was sent out so late. I’d have really liked to have known something about it when I first saw the smoke,” Madison Simon ’18 said.

“I care about what goes on around campus. Why can’t I know about these disruptions sooner?” Ruby Gould ’19 said.

Executive Director for Facilities Mike Patterson said that the plumes of smoke were the first indication of a leak in the steam pipe. He and others from the Facilities Department surmised that the problem—which could stem from anywhere along the almost 1,000 feet of underground steam line—derives from an area closer to the ELC, and excavation work is currently being done to see whether or not this is true. While it has since been substantiated that there is a leak in the steam line, its exact location has yet to be determined.

Allison Mascioli ’18, a tour guide for the University, said that parents and prospective students that she has guided throughout the University have approached her with questions and comments about the construction and the smell of the manholes.

“People all around have definitely taken notice of the construction, and the smell when walking by. It’s hard not to,” Mascioli said.

Mascioli said that she feels “engulfed” by the smell permeating the downhill area.

“It just smells so nasty. Bucknell is all about the beauty of the campus; people always comment on it, and [the ELC] is the central hub, we take our tours right by it. It’s hard because you want to be able to show off the prettiest parts of campus, but it’s difficult when you have to walk by this gross-smelling intersection,” Mascioli said. 

Patterson said that he had been approached with questions about the smell. The email sent to the campus community said the odor emitted from the manholes is a result of “the mineral wool insulating the pipe, which has been saturated by ground water that is being boiled into steam,” a hitch in the system that Patterson had anticipated. The Campus Notice continued to state that the steam may “continue to smell for a few more weeks.”

“[The smell] is just disgusting. I was walking back from the gym yesterday, and I had to walk between both of the spewing sewers. And I was like, ‘this is the last thing I need after working out,’” Maxine Cook ’19 said.

While the leak has increased the temperature of the ground in the general downhill area, the email sent out to campus said that there is “no reason to believe there are additional environmental implications.”

On the evening of Oct. 7, a sign was placed on the door of Bostwick Marketplace, stating: “Due to repair work outside the LC, Bostwick will be using paper plates and plastic silverware this evening.” Patterson said that such an occurrence is due to a sewer blockage issue not related to the steam leak.

“The ELC operations that discharged to the sewer (such as dishwashing) had to be put on hold. That is why they had to use disposable products instead. As of a few minutes ago the sewer line is open again,” Patterson said.

Patterson said that a break or leak in the steam line is bound to occur with any underground piping, and spotting the exact location of the break can be difficult.

“We try to do as much investigation as possible before we dig to make sure we don’t end up causing a lot of disruption to the campus,” Patterson said.


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