Power outage shines light on flaws in campus design

By Staff Writer Sawyer Pollitt.

Recently, UMass Dartmouth lost power. It was only for a short time, but the absence of electricity on campus raised questions about the preparedness of the university to address issues such as these as well as provide for the safety of those with mobility issues.

Where were you during the great UMass Dartmouth power outage of 2019?

I had just arrived in the library eagerly anticipating a nice hot latte to give me the energy to make it through the rest of my miserable day when suddenly, the building went dark. In the moments after that I was sure the apocalypse had come.

When the backup power came back on the students of UMass Dartmouth now had to deal with a campus running on hope and good intentions. Electronics could not be charged, water bubblers weren’t functioning, and dinner plans had to be changed as the good people at the various dining areas were unable to whip up their specialties.

In defense of the university, their response was quick and efficient. Within the hour a mass notification was sent out alerting the student body to what was going on. Classes were cancelled and the school was closed. Within several hours the power was back on and all was right in the world.

However, it was the time in between the power being lost and coming back on that raises concerns. The UMass Dartmouth campus is uniquely designed. The architecture is beautiful, especially this time of year. The concepts of Paul Rudolph are genius and lend to an unforgettable experience for students.

Unfortunately, with these brilliant and bold designs, come inherent flaws, one of which being the abundance, or one could say over-abundance of stairs.

The multi-leveled structure of every building is a nightmare for those who have impaired mobility.

Getting from one end of the Campus Center to the other can be a huge challenge. If not for the elevators on campus, those who are in wheelchairs, or require other forms of aid would be completely unable to get around.

When the power was out for several hours, the elevators were also out of commission. If someone found themselves studying on the fifth floor of the library, they would need to use one of the stairwells to get down to exit the building.

If one had a class on the second floor of the Liberal Arts building, they wouldn’t be able to go much further than one hallway without the use of stairs or an elevator. Reportedly, there was indeed someone in a wheelchair that was stuck on the 3rd floor of LARTS for the couple hours without power.

This presents a serious issue for some on the campus. Granted, this is not something that can be solved without the complete renovation of most of the university.

However, with new additions and buildings being planned, it is important to take this problem into consideration now. There are a number of ways that the problem of inaccessibility can be addressed.

First, the inclusion of ramps embedded into stairwells could alleviate a portion of this issue while still staying true to the multi leveled design of much of the campus. This, though, would only affect the outdoor stairs and changes in elevation. The interior of buildings would still need to rely on elevators. A simple fix for this would be to ensure that the backup power is able to run at least all of the essential elevators on campus. If a wheelchair bound individual was studying on the fifth floor of the library, they would effectively be stuck there until the power was restored.

The problem of inaccessibility here at UMass Dartmouth is not one that will be going away any time soon. The recent power outage only serves to shed some light on the problem, though no realistic solutions can be offered at this time. We can only hope that next time the lights go out, it’s handled as quickly as seen here.


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