Outside of its lack of a sewer plant, Cal Poly is like a little city.
It has 7,000 residents, spacious buildings, near-perfect weather and scenic views.
But there is a mad scramble of behind-the-scenes difficulties that challenge the maintenance of this little city.
An example can be traced back to November 2013, when emails were sent out and the Recreation Center posted a Facebook update saying hot water was unavailable.
The lack of hot water lasted for approximately three days.
But three days is relatively quick, considering Cal Poly has a multi-million-dollar underground hot water distribution system. And it is wearing out.
“We do not know where a failure might occur; it could be anywhere on campus,” said Mark Hunter, associate vice president for facilities. “If a failure does occur, we have a little bit of money to immediately fix the actual failure. Immediate can be a few days, as the fix can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and many hours.”
If the facilities department had all the money it needs to repair everything on campus perfectly, it would require more than $140 million. This estimation by the California State University (CSU) calculation system, however, only covers state-supported buildings.
But more importantly, this figure continues to go up.
In fact, the state only gives the facilities department half the funding it needs for annual maintenance: $12 million ($6 per square foot). This number is divided among custodians, landscaping and other projects.
In the end, it allows the department approximately $2 million for actual maintenance.
“We try to get by with what we have,” Hunter said.
State funding, however, is tricky.
Most buildings on Cal Poly’s campus are state-owned. But the state only pays for state-supported buildings, which excludes residence halls, Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) facilities, Campus Dining facilities, the Julian A. McPhee University Union, the Recreation Center and Orfalea Family and ASI Children’s Center.
If maintenance is needed, it will be paid to the facilities department out of students’ rent or school fees.
Even trickier: Though the Recreation Center is not a state-supported building, hot water is delivered to it through a state-supported system of underground pipes. Because of this, the facilities department used state funding to repair the pipes.
Challenges in maintaining Cal Poly’s little city
At the intersection of Cuesta Avenue and South Perimeter Road lies the 106-year-old Old Power House (building 76) — the oldest building on campus.
“It’s on a historical register,” said Rex Wolf, architect and plan room coordinator for facilities. “It’s kind of falling apart. It’s not really used. It’s all boarded up.”
Wolf said the building had generators that once ran the campus.
This building has been looked at by ASI President and agricultural business senior Jason Colombini as a possible location for an on-campus pub.
Across from it, on the other side of Cuesta Avenue, is the 86-year-old Crandall Gymnasium, another older building.
The gymnasium has been determined as sensitive to earthquakes, Wolf said, and “tends to move a little bit,” Hunter added.
It’s not impossible to rejuvenate such an old building, it just costs “millions and millions and millions of dollars,” Hunter said.
In fact, only the gym in the center of this building is abandoned; there are still offices around the building’s perimeter.
Other old buildings are:
Facility Services Electric Shop (building 70 B), built in 1922
Heron Hall (building 117), built in 1927
University House (building 51), built in 1928
Jespersen Hall (building 116), built in 1929
Parker Ranch, Storage and Barn (building 122), built in 1929
But money is not the only challenge the facilities department faces. Students can be an issue, too.
Over the years, some towers in Sierra Madre and Yosemite have grown problematic and difficult to control, said Patrick Griffin, assistant director for maintenance.
“(Students) go through and pull dispensers off the wall,” Griffin said. “Some even sit on the sink, and the sink will fall off. They put graffiti, they break windows.”
When destruction looks negligent, Griffin will inform the housing staff to conduct further investigations. If there is vandalism in the red brick residence halls and the housing staff can’t prove who did it, they divide the repair cost among every resident of the building.
“But when it comes down to how much it costs to do that, (students) get charged 75 cents or $2.50, so they don’t care,” Griffin said.
Instead of considering students’ vandalism a challenge, Griffin called it “job security” for his staff.
“Students are students,” he said. “Basically, they’re high schoolers free from mom and dad.”
The facilities department also has to go through fire alarm and air pollution inspections and other regulatory requirements on a periodical basis. Sometimes, that means finding outside contractors.
Required by the state, the department obtains three proposals from different companies and takes the lowest bid. But low prices don’t always mean high quality, Griffin said.
The establishment of the Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics (building 180) also brings some challenges. It has complicated systems in the science labs that the maintenance staff had to get used to, Griffin said.
The building also has the only fire pump on campus and a different cooling system that is run off the thermal energy tank in the central plant.
“So we have to learn how to maintain and educate ourselves about that whole system,” Griffin said.
The maintenance staff works from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, but only two people serve as first responders who cover emergency for the whole campus from 3:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Their job is to keep Cal Poly’s little city as beautiful and safe as it is.
“And we have a limited budget to do it all,” Griffin said.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that several non-state-supported buildings are not state owned. It has been since been updated to say the buildings are state owned, but not state supported.