Section: News

Power outages disrupt campus on Friday night before break

Storms and power outages the night of March 3, the Friday before spring break, led to a particularly weird evening for the students who remained on campus after smoking apartments, broken elevators and foul odors created chaos and confusion throughout North campus. 

According to Manager of Technical Trades David Boughter, heavy winds late Friday night caused a large oak tree on East Woodside Drive to fall, bringing power lines down with it onto the street. This disrupted the electrical system on the north end of campus, cutting off power to Gund Commons, Caples Hall, Mather Residence Hall, McBride Residence Hall and about half of the North Campus Apartments (NCAs).

As a result of the power outage, fire alarms went off in several NCAs as copper electrical wires in the units’ basements began to burn and smoke. After the outage, the remaining functioning lines had to overwork to compensate for those that had gone out, which caused them to overheat, according to Boughter. Lillian Brouwer ’25 described a rancid smell that accompanied the smoke wafting from several apartments. “It smelled like smoke, but it was horrendous — it was like burnt rubber,” she said.

The Office of Campus Safety and the Mount Vernon Fire Department responded to the fire alarms and found no active fires, and Boughter deployed Kenyon maintenance staff to repair the burned lines immediately. “I had guys coming in and checking, making sure there’s no fires anywhere and then starting to make repairs even though we didn’t have power,” he said. “It’s not that hard to replace them, rewire them and then have them ready for when the power starts.” Boughter also called American Electric Power (AEP)   for assistance. AEP cut the electrical power to all of the NCAs so that the wires burning in some of the units would not catch on fire, and to prevent the lines in other units from overheating as well.  

Meanwhile, Caples residents were experiencing their own problems. Because several of the floors in the nine-story hall are higher than the water tower, when the power went out and the pump that is used to distribute water to the upper floors was no longer functional, residents were unable to use the building’s toilets or showers. The elevator was also inoperable after the power surge preceding the outage caused its controller to burn.  

Despite the night’s strange turn of events, several Kenyon students still managed to celebrate the beginning of spring break. Rocco Danese ’23 said that he and his housemates were ready to host a party before Campus Safety banged on their door and told them to evacuate their smoking NCA. 

When they were allowed to go back inside, Danese and his housemates were prepared to save the night with their fully charged speaker. “We were just like, you know what, the party goes on,” he said. “It was probably one of the weirdest Weird Fridays I’ve ever had in my life at Kenyon. The power going out was crazy. We just thought, why not have fun while we still can?” Despite the chaos, Danese said that about 30-40 people came to the party he and his housemates threw. 

Many of the students who experienced the drama of the power outages on Friday were gone by the time the second one occurred at around 9:45 p.m. on Saturday, which affected the same buildings and led to another sleepless night for several of the College’s maintenance staff, according to Director of Campus Safety Michael Sweazey. “I came in here, I was dead tired. I thought for sure after the first one we were in the clear,” Boughter said. The second power outage was a result of an underground line malfunctioning, likely due in part to the water from the storm the night before. AEP was not able to completely restore this outage until about 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 6. 

Sweazey noted that without the efficient response from maintenance staff, the issues could have been much worse. “I have to commend the officers and dispatchers in Campus Safety for their immediate response,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. “There were a lot of people in Maintenance and other areas of Facilities who went with very little or no sleep in order to restore systems to the campus.” 

He also explained that a new generator being installed this week in Gund Commons will hopefully be able to mitigate these issues in the future. “It will provide emergency power to Mather-McBride and Gund Commons. This will provide emergency power to a good number of residential units, and it will also provide a safe and convenient place for students who need power and for services to be provided to the north end of campus,” he wrote.


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