Campus caught off guard by unseasonable heat wave

Last week, near record-breaking temperatures caused Youngstown State University students and faculty to sweat through the middle of the semester.

According to the National Weather Service, temperatures averaged 78 degrees between Monday and Friday. Thursday was the hottest day with a high of 81 degrees, just 1 degree short of Youngstown’s record temperature for March.

John Hyden, executive director of facilities at YSU, said that, in 19 years at the position, he’s never seen such consistently warm weather in early spring.

“The weather last week was unprecedented,” Hyden said.

Because YSU’s contract says not to turn on the air conditioning until April 15, room temperatures have been stifling.

Helene Sinnreich, director of Judaic and Holocaust studies, reported that classrooms in DeBartolo Hall were more than 80 degrees.

“Ultimately, there is a long-term problem that the temperature of the buildings cannot be adjusted to coincide with the weather outside,” Sinnreich said.

Sinnreich added that the windows couldn’t be opened to alleviate the situation.

Javad Alam, an engineering professor, also said room temperature has been a problem for years.

“This year, due to unusual weather we are having, the rooms got hotter earlier,” Alam said.

Both professors reported that students have been having trouble sitting through class periods since the temperatures have peaked.

“I had students sweating and one nearly pass out,” Sinnreich said. “It is difficult to learn in extreme heat or cold.”

The large number of complaints by faculty led Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, director of the James Dale Ethics Center, to entertain the idea of grieving.

Though he questioned the legitimacy of aggregated complaints, he called for mass action by way of letters to various campus officials in an email.

Palmer-Fernandez was unable to be reached for comment.

Gene Grilli, vice president for finance and administration, said the university chooses to keep the air conditioning off until mid-April to avoid damaging the system.

“Prior to that date, we run a huge risk to doing major damage to the coils in the cooling system,” Grilli said.

Most of YSU’s buildings are connected to a campuswide loop, with each building dependent on others.

Cool water runs through the coils that make up the air conditioning system.

Hyden said that March temperatures, usually averaging in the 20s, are too low to risk using the air-conditioning unit.

“The coils could freeze in a matter of seconds,” Grilli said, as temperatures were expected to dip back into the low 20s on Wednesday night.

In spring 2010, facilities removed antifreeze from the campus loop, filled the system with water and fired up the air conditioning about a week ahead of April 15.

“People think you flip the switch and the AC clicks on,” Hyden said. “That’s not how it works here. To fill the system would have been too great a risk.”

Hyden said the complaints were coming from people in buildings in the loop.

Alam said a slight drop typically occurs in attendance when the weather gets nice in the spring, but it’s the temperatures in the classrooms that have drawn complaints from his students.

For his evening classes, Alam has been able to move the students into one of the university computer labs, which Hyden said are cooled independently from the campus loop system.

High temperatures caused Sinnreich to dismiss classes early.

“The heat was just too overwhelming,” Sinnreich said. “The students have been very good-natured about the situation.”

Hyden said the facilities team did everything practical to get the buildings cooled down.

“We changed fan schedules and sequences,” Hyden said. “We would have run the chillers last week if we could have.”