Investigative Report: How Safe are Windows on Campus?

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The Columns investigates after window flaws put one student in harm’s way.

It was a day like any other. Students gathered in a classroom in Newnham Hall on Oct. 8 to take a test. All was quiet when, suddenly, the class heard a “bang.” Eyes immediately drew to the sound and saw that a window had fallen on a student.

“Shocked and confused.” These are the words that Kellen Brondel, ’16, used to describe how he felt after the window fell on his head.

Originally open, the window caused Brondel’s test to blow across the desk, so he decided to close it. As soon as he closed the window and turned around to complete his test, the top portion of the window fell on him.

“It seemed like the top of the window was disconnected,” Brondel said.

“It took me a couple minutes to refocus, and I was able to finish the test,” he said, adding that he and other students became distracted by the incident and that it took five minutes to put the window back in its place.

Brondel said he was not seriously injured but did get a bump on his head.

Dan Haslag, executive director of Plant Operations, said he knew about the window falling out of place in Newnham Hall classroom 33 after it was reported by a faculty member, but he was unaware that it had fallen on a student.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get this information,” Haslag said. “I would have reached out to him/her with an apology.”

Plant Operations explained why this incident might have occurred.

“There are occasions when the lower pane fails to engage into a latched position when closing, thus making the pane less secured in the track; or if the spring mechanism fails to keep the window open and slams shut, the window has the risk of jumping out of the track,” Haslag said.

According to Haslag, the windows in Newnham Hall are approximately 20 years old, and with a 25 year life expectancy, they will rise on Plant Operations’ priority list in the upcoming years.

The latch mechanisms have already been replaced on three windows in the building.

When asked about upkeep for Westminster’s older buildings, such as 114-year-old Newnham Hall, Haslag said the process is similar to that of the newer facilities.

“We have a series of tasks associated with performing ongoing preventative maintenance in our computerized maintenance management system,” he said. “Preventative maintenance work orders are automatically generated at pre-determined intervals, depending on the task. Obviously, we respond to reactive maintenance work orders as well. A comprehensive log of larger-scale capital maintenance needs for our campus facilities is maintained and updated on a regular basis. Capital project needs are then prioritized and scheduled as funding allows.”

Reactive maintenance was required earlier this month for a window in Coulter Science Center.

There was an extensive crack in a window at the end of the hallway near the science classrooms on the middle level.

Plant Operations was not able to determine the cause of the cracked window, but the department said the glass section was replaced on Nov. 10.

“It did not pose a safety concern, but it was certainly our intention to replace the cracked glass section,” Haslag said, adding, “We were unable to take a preventative measure for the crack in Coulter. This is a stationary window system with no mechanical/moving parts.”

When asked about the department’s preventive measures to ensure potentially dangerous incidents, such as the window falling on a student, do not happen again, Haslag said: “In terms of operational windows, it again comes down to preventative maintenance performed at appropriate intervals, relying on folks who both service and use the facility to report any malfunctions, and to budget for replacements via the capital project process when such building components reach the end of the life expectancies.”

When school is in session, the department will inspect the windows throughout campus when visible signs of repair are recognized or when a report is received, and the facilities are inspected in greater detail over the summer. Haslag added that there are other windows that are scheduled to be replaced for energy-saving purposes.

To report damage to campus buildings or property, email WORKORDER or contact Plant Operations at 573-592-5282 for non-urgent needs. If an urgent repair is needed after hours or on weekends, contact Campus Security at 573-592-5555.

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