posted 2012-04-07 16:41:18

Fire Exit in Severe Disrepair

Extensive water damage and leaking pipes found in emergency stairwell

Jenady Garshofsky--Editor in Chief and Bridgit Boulahanis-- Features Editor

Aging skylight hanging above emergency exit stairwell. Water damage is visible. Photo by Jenady Garshofsky.

Despite Hunter College’s recent extensive cosmetic renovations, certain areas on Hunter’s Main Campus that are crucial to student safety remain in disrepair. An anonymous tip revealed one “of several locations” within Hunter that is currently in poor maintenance and poses a potential hazard to students.

Behind one of Hunter’s main lecture halls there is an emergency exit door with an alarm that no longer functions. As a result, students and visitors have the option to visit the exit without soliciting attention. Furthermore, in the event of an emergency, the rest of the building and Public Safety would not be alerted by an alarm, raising the risk that occupants of the building would fail to evacuate the building in a timely manner. Students would also be exposed to a multitude of hazardous areas in the fire escape stairwell. The defunct alarm door is a gateway to severely dilapidated conditions that according to the anonymous tip “have been this way for years.”

Due to water leakage, the staircase displays rust and extensive water damage from leaks in the building’s aging roof. The paint on the walls has chipped off, exposing further rust and damage to the walls beneath. Leonard Zinnanti, Acting Chief Operating Officer of Hunter College, said “we are addressing the current problems in that area, which are caused by the building’s aging roof and skylight. In essence, the roof system has exceeded its service life.”

As one descends from the top floor to the bottom floor, there are a multitude of exposed pipes. Zinnanti said during the last week of March that “the exposed pipe chase is not a hazard; however, it should be sealed. We expect this to happen by next week.”

Water has corroded the staircases and damaged the walls. Photo by Jenady Garshofsky.
The emergency exit is not a new discovery to some members of the Hunter community as evidenced by blocks of white paint recently added to cover rampant graffiti, which extends upwards from the bottom of the stairwell. A CUNY Public Safety official speaking on the condition of anonymity said that the emergency exit location is “much better than it once was.” The emergency stairwell has a dome camera installed above one of the fire exit doors.

One of the doors available off of this exit route leads to a machinery room in need of repair. One of the most imminent dangers in this location is the leaking pipes and machinery which have created

several standing pools of water beneath the machinery. The pipes display pressure gauges with black and yellow caution tape, and are clearly insulated.

Some health experts have said that leaking pipes have the potential to create mold which can lead to numerous health problems such as asthma, headaches, allergic reactions and myctoxicosis, as well as other airborne irritations that could travel to classrooms near the emergency exit.

These concerns are only increased by the presence of an open air duct which the anonymous tipster confirmed “could pose a serious safety hazard to anyone who went too close.” The vent, which should normally be covered, is approximately two square feet in size and elevated a few feet off the ground. Behind the opening in the vent there is a multi-story drop.

Upon being alerted to the decrepit emergency exit, Zinnanti told the Envoy that the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) is “currently in the design phase to replace this eighth floor roof membrane and skylight.” DASNY was unavailable to comment about the designs as of this printing.

The problems with the emergency exit location have yet to fully be addressed as of this writing, however the door to the machinery room has since been locked.

Zinnanti said, “the stairwell continues to serve as a complying emergency exit.” According to a press representative from the New York City Fire Department, New York City law does not require all fire exits to be alarmed, however it does require that doors to emergency exits remain unlocked yet closed or have a self closing mechanism in the case of an emergency to slow the spread of fire or hazardous materials. The representative went on to say that while the fire department visits Hunter College approximately once a year.

Ricardo Franco, the Director of Environmental Health and Safety at Hunter College said “Hunter College takes health and safety issues very seriously.” Franco also said that his department understands that “no part of the campus should be neglected.” Franco went on to ensure the Envoy that “the present situation will be resolved promptly and are grateful for the attention brought to this matter.”

On April 3, as water was dripping from the skylight, a new employee was sweeping debris from the stairwell. The new employee was hired through the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) . The CEO was formed by the mayor in 2006 as an initiative to fight poverty.

Leaking pipes create a standing pool of water and residue suggests extent of prior leaks. Photo by John Bolger.