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Thursday, June 01, 2023 — Houston, TX

Problems decline at Duncan, McMurtry

By Michelle Phillips     2/11/10 6:00pm

The technical difficulties faced by Rice University's first green colleges gave Duncan College and McMurtry College a rough start last fall. However, students and staff agree that the problems are now decreasing in both frequency and magnitude. According to Student Maintenance Representatives at both colleges, students issued multiple complaints about the living situation during the fall semester. Work orders last semester ranged from the absence of hot water to a lack of light switches, but both Matt Fritze, the SMR for Duncan and Baker College, and Michael Rog, a co-SMR for McMurtry and Will Rice College, said the problems are now minor and more contained.

"[Duncan] is now a fully functional building, and everything pretty much works," Fritze, a Baker junior, said. "Housing & Dining has either already fixed [the problem] or they have plans in the works to fix it."

According to Rog, the most common complaint now is that someone has locked himself or herself out of his or her room.

"Now I'm less busy than I was at Old Will Rice," Rog, a Will Rice senior, said.

Rog served as SMR last year, before the new section of Will Rice was torn down.

According to H&D records, the number of work orders from both colleges exceeded 5,500 in early August alone when students first moved in.

By the beginning of October, however, the number of work orders started to stabilize at around 100-200 orders. Now, according to H&D Maintenance Manager David Brown and Facilities, Engineering and Planning Manager of Communications Susann Glenn, the new colleges have no more work orders than any other college; Brown estimates that he may have received 35 work orders from the two colleges since Dec. 1, all of them minor.

"[H&D and FE&P] recognize that we kind of missed the boat in making sure students knew how to use that green building, and how to live in a green building," Glenn said, noting Duncan's environmentally friendly factors. "We've been kind of retroactively working with Baker-Duncan and Will Rice-McMurtry on how to live in these spaces."

Glenn said FE&P and H&D take responsibility for the misunderstandings students had in the beginning of the year on how to use the facilities. For example, she said students would inadvertently cover the infrared sensors, which activate heating and lighting units, or would mistakenly file a complaint about the low water pressure, when they were simply using low-flow showerheads.

She also said she hoped the experience from this year will make the transition into the new Baker and Will Rice buildings next year run smoother.

Aside from educating students on how to use the facilities, the SMRs also drew attention to some of the technologies in the new buildings that were either broken or simply did not work. For example, Rog said water valves were installed too early and dried out because they had no water flowing through them, rendering them unable to send water to the colleges at a consistent temperature and pressure.

Senior Director of H&D Frank Rodriguez said the university simply had to replace the faulty valves and reset their temperature settings.

The SMRs continued to work with H&D to resolve problems in the colleges into the school year.

"There were also many design-driven decisions that simply didn't work," Rog said, referring to showerheads the architects chose that were sleek but not necessarily user-friendly.

Glenn said the students' response to the showerheads convinced H&D to have the contractor change them out in favor of a different design over winter break, and Rog said he has since heard substantial praise for the new showerheads.

Rog, Fritze and several students who wished to remain anonymous confirmed H&D's assertion that the peak problem time came at the very beginning of the year. Rog and Fritze both said they were impressed with how quickly FE&P reacted once the problems were recognized.

"Ed Bailey, who was the FE&P project manager [last semester], and Glenn ... just were superheroes," Rog said.

Brown said the kind of problems Duncan and McMurtry experienced are typical for new buildings, especially since the two colleges' technology is completely new to residential buildings at Rice.

"Anytime you're opening a new building . there's always going to be a punch list," Brown said, which he explained is a list compiled by the owner of everything that is incomplete or not built to standard that the contractor is then expected to correct.

Further design issues in the colleges, such as unfinished concrete floors or flooding pods, are scheduled to be corrected over the summer, Rog said.

"I can't say enough [about] how critical the student input was," Glenn said.

She was especially impressed, she said, by a wiki that Rog had set up for McMurtry and Will Rice, which can be found at www.willrice.org/wiki/McMurtry-new-building-issues.

Getting the students to catalog all of their problems in one place, Rog said, allowed him and co-SMR Amara DiFrancesco to see the bigger issues in the college.

In turn, this Web site helped FE&P to communicate with the college, Glenn said.

"We want things to be perfect for the students, because obviously, [the students] are why we're here," she said.

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