Section: News

Power outages follow construction mishaps, shaky weather

The College has experienced an influx of power outages this year, the latest of which occurred on Sunday when parts of South campus lost power after trees struck power lines on Quarry Chapel Road.

Since wind speeds didn’t lessen until after midnight, American Electric Power (AEP) was not able to address the situation right away. Ascension Hall, along with the Bolton and Hill Theaters, were left without power until at least Monday afternoon, while Peirce Hall and the Kenyon Athletic Center ran on generators.

Some campus buildings and living spaces also lost power into Monday as a result of AEP’s repair efforts. 

Director of Facility Operations Steve Arnett divided Kenyon power outages into two categories. “Primarily we have two kinds of outages: one[s] that we’ve planned, which is usually associated with some kind of construction project,” he said. “[And] then we have the unplanned outages, which 95 percent of the time are somehow weather related.”     

Of the eight power outages that have occurred this year, five were construction-related and three were caused by extreme weather conditions. Three of the construction-related outages were scheduled in order to conduct work on the West Quad, while the other two were accidents.

According to Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman, the power outage on Jan. 18 was a result of a construction worker accidentally hitting the temporary power lines while moving dirt for the construction of the new library. “The guy with the excavator, swung his boom around and hit the power line near Sunset Cottage,” Kohlman said.

Gambier has three main grids of “master meter power” that supply power to different parts of campus, which is why most of the power outages have only affected certain buildings. In this case of the Jan. 18 outage, a slew of buildings on South campus — the Taft Cottages, Old Kenyon, Hannah and Leonard — lost power.

Another power outage happened on Dec. 14, when construction workers were digging a trench near Cromwell Cottage to put in a gas line for the new library. “When they were digging over here they hit the wire underground that goes into Cromwell Cottage, and that caused the fire,” Kohlman said. “[So] they had to shut all this power down to make sure it wasn’t causing more fire, and to fix it.”

Aside from Sunday’s outage, there were two more weather-related power disruptions. A regional storm caused an outage two weekends ago. Before that was the double-header leading into Thanksgiving break: Initially a result of a tree hitting an off-campus power line, the outage dragged on into the next day after the nearby AEP service main experienced damage. 

Kohlman emphasized the College’s lack of control in preventing these weather-related incidents, which often have their roots miles away from campus.

“A lot of times a car accident on 229 will take out a power line, or accident out on Coshocton Avenue hits a telephone pole,” he said. “Parts of campus are out of power because the substation isn’t getting power because of some accident three miles away.”

When asked whether this year has seen more power outages than is normal, Arnett said he didn’t think so.

“With all the construction that we’re doing at the library, we’ve probably had more scheduled outages then in the past,” he said. “But in terms of the unplanned outages, it honestly it feels like it’s about par for the course.”

Arnett described a number of measures Kenyon has in place to soften the blow of power outages: Unlike the Village, the College has underground power lines, which strongly eliminate the risk of natural disturbances like falling trees. Moreover, the campus has plans to upgrade their auxiliary power sources by installing an additional generator in the science quad and another in Gund Commons.

Arnett said the interest in Gund Commons comes from its proximity to North campus. “The thought with Gund Commons is they’ve got the ballroom and the game room — larger open spaces where if we needed to move kids out [of their rooms] they would have a place to go,” he said.

“The good news is after every event, a power outage, you always have the opportunity to sit down as a team and go back and look at what went well and what didn’t. So it’s a continual learning process,” Arnett said. “But like I said, if we if we get better after every one — with the number of outages that we have every year, we’re going to be really good at it someday.”


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