A Media Milwaukee investigation into the 40-year-old Sandburg towers’ conditions and the university’s plans to repair them found maintenance requests submitted by students in 2016 were down by 11% since 2012. However, so far in 2017, work order requests are up, according to the maintenance supervisor, Todd Luebstorf.
Despite this percentage decline, the number of available beds and occupancy has also dropped steadily over the last few years.
For the coming school year, the average occupancy is predicted to decrease by 267 students, and the number of available beds is also expected to decline.
Kelly Haag, the university’s housing director, said occupancy of the buildings is based on an average because the numbers fluctuate throughout the year, but for the 2017-18 budget they are expecting another decrease.
The Sandburg Hall buildings are the four identical looking towers on the UWM campus beyond the common park area on the corner of Maryland and Hartford.
Complaints submitted to the maintenance department by students living in the north, south and west towers, included plumbing problems ranging from sink clogs to shower leaks to water temperature issues, as well as complaints with the electrical (such as light switches, elevators and other miscellaneous problems).
Yessenia Sanchez, a UWM student living in the Sandburg north tower, said the elevators are the one thing that need an immediate overhaul. She has to leave her dorm 20 minutes early in order to get to class on time.
“There is always one that’s down, and the fact that it’s the tallest tower and has the most people living in it- there should definitely be a working system for getting up to your dorm,” said Sanchez.
Official documents from the University Housing Director showed ‘work order request’ trends over the last six years:
- In 2012, there were zero water temperature problems. This increased to 48 in 2016.
- Toilet repairs also increased by 27 percent from 2012 to 2016.
- Sink and shower repairs nearly doubled.
- Outlet and elevator issues have remained consistent.
- Electrical and plumbing clogs have decreased in that same time frame.
- Occupancy is down by 9 percent between the Sandburg and Purin buildings since the 2014-15 school year.
UW-Milwaukee has the second highest rates in the UW System just trailing UW- Madison where the price for a double room started at $7,824 for the 2016-17 school year.
A double room in the Sandburg dorm’s east tower runs a student $5,960 a year. The savvier students who are looking to save about $600 can stay in any of the other towers- north, south or west. But those come with a catch, the east tower was built in the late 90’s while the others were built in the early 70’s, and they’ve never had a major renovation, until now.
“It’s a dorm; there’s not really high expectations when it comes to living in dorms,” said Sanchez, Sandburg north resident.
No major renovations have been made to any of the rooms for the Sandburg Hall buildings in question, but, according to a Planning and Projects document from 2010, the windows were updated (although it is unclear what was done), light fixtures were updated to LED lighting, according to Luebstorf, and the well-known lobby was remodeled in 2008.
Emire Sewell, who lives in the north tower, said the structure and showers need some work.
“The water pressure is really bad in the shower, a lot… often,” said Sewell.
Online reviews from a college review website, www.unigo.com echoed similar concerns about living on UWM’s campus, although, they raved about the location and food.
“It is close to the lake so even summer classes have their perks with the location of this campus,” wrote one Student, Denise.
Another student, Jessica, wrote:
“The dorms on campus are really small and cramped and hot throughout the year, but there is easy access to food and facilities.”
Luebstorf, the maintenance supervisor, said there is always day to day upkeep of any building, so that makes it difficult to tell what causes these problems. Until you look at each issue individually, you can’t always say if it’s old piping, for instance, or user error.
However, looking at some of the requests it’s obvious that many issues are recurring and due to the structures being outdated. This one is from a student earlier this year:
“Earlier today, I submitted a work order about our bathroom light and somebody came and fixed it. The light was working well for a little bit, but now it is flickering and extremely dim, to the point that it is worse than it was before.”
Other complaints speak to the conditions of the dorms’ electrical and water infrastructure as well.
“For the past two weeks, our shower has not been getting any hotter than lukewarm. Could you please look at it over spring break to make it hotter?”
And: “There is an outlet near the mailboxes with evident burn marks.”
In February, Gov. Scott Walker released his 2018 Capital budget, where he recommended $128,285,000 for phase one renovations to the Sandburg Dorms, just a fraction of the requested $794,531,400.
A press release from his office on March 8th highlighted parts of his budget proposal of “over $33 million to renovate and repair the north, south, and west resident towers in Sandburg Hall,” and the approval of the remodel by The State Building Commission.
Chancellor Mark Mone wrote in a newsletter on March 29th, “We are extremely pleased with the endorsement of these proposals to provide significant enhancement to the student experience. The Sandburg project will include upgrades to plumbing and other infrastructure systems in our largest residence halls.”
The repairs will be the first since 2008 when the roof and lobby of the building were modernized to include new amenities like the current cafeteria, convenience store, coffee shop, and rec. space.
Although the plumbing is an issue for students (one request stated: “Sink doesn’t drain and has been backing up with dirty water. Could someone come fix it please?”), David Rashid, who also lives in the north tower, said it’s livable. Except the elevators.
“They’re pretty bad, especially the ones in the north tower,” said Rashid.
Luebstorf said if enrollment continues to decrease, they could condense students in buildings to work on construction during the school year, but the plans aren’t quite there yet.
“The project is still at the beginning stage,” said Luebstorf. We don’t even have the full scope or architect set yet so it probably won’t happen until 2020 is what we’re thinking.”