Boiler steams students

As temperatures dipped below freezing several nights this week, Southern Oregon University junior Amber Templeton slept with her dorm room windows open — to keep the temperature in her room to 70 degrees.

Last week officials switched on the university's antiquated boiler heating system, which connects to all of the dorms on campus — and features uneven heating and almost no temperature controls.

"It's bad," Templeton, 22, said Wednesday as she stood in front of the windows in her room in Diamond Hall, located in the Cascade Residence Complex off Indiana Street. "I have my windows open all the time, even though there's snow outside on the hills."

Once the heating system is switched on for the season, there's virtually no way to adjust it or turn it off, said Jason Ebbeling, SOU's director of residential education and services. University officials recognize the problem, but say a major retrofit of the system is not likely, given the cost.

"Once the heat's on, the heat's on for the year," he said. "We can sometimes adjust the boilers down slightly, but mainly we tell students to just open their windows.

"If you walk through campus right now, you'll see all the windows open. It really is a complicated problem."

Officials waited until last week to turn on the heating system, because the heaters combined with warm afternoon weather would have caused temperatures in some rooms to reach 100 degrees, Ebbeling said.

Not only is the system uncomfortable for students — it's also energy inefficient.

Three of the halls in the Cascade Complex have air conditioning wall units because they house conference groups in the summer — but students living in those halls are running the air conditioners now to help cool off their rooms.

"One of the problems with our older buildings is that they are not very energy efficient," Ebbeling said. "We've made a commitment to sustainability, but it's harder with these older buildings and the heating system."

The university's 10-year master plan, which officials hope the city will approve in the coming months, calls for building a new dorm off Wightman Street to replace the aging Cascade Complex.

"Part of the master plan is to potentially cease using Cascade, where really our biggest heat issues are," Ebbeling said.

It will be cheaper to build a new dorm than to upgrade the heating system, he said.

University officials have received about a dozen complaints regarding the heat and — before last week — the lack of it, he said. About 850 students live in the dorms on campus.

For now, those students have to learn to cope with the uneven heating system,

"I think everyone pretty much everywhere is having the same problem, but there's nothing anyone can do," Templeton said. "I just keep my windows open. When it's cold outside, that's when I like it because I get the cold air in."

Overall, Templeton is enjoying living in the Cascade Complex — despite the temperature of her room, she said.

"This is my first dorm experience," she said. "It's been really good except for the heat problem."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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