Marlins go dark in campus-wide power outage

Kayla Skeete | Marlin Chronicle
Kayla Skeete | Marlin Chronicle
Kayla Skeete | Marlin Chronicle

By Justin Smith
Virginia Wesleyan College suffered from a campus-wide power outage the morning of Tuesday, March 8 when the college’s maintenance staff accidentally struck an underground power line outside of the Fine Arts building. The power was restored later that afternoon.
The maintenance staff was digging to repair a collapsed sewer line, according to Vice President for Facilities and Operations Bruce Vaughan.
“This is in an area that is very tight and where tree roots have invaded the sewer line in the past. We dug in an area that, by original drawings, should have been clear,” Vaughan said.
The maintenance staff conducted past digging in that location to repair broken sewer lines, so difficulties were not to expected.
“We were at fault for the power cut,” Vaughan said. “Strict line-identifying rules have been established for future issues, however, due to the proximity of the sewer lines to the power lines, there is no guarantee this cannot happen in the future.”
A Miss Utility ticket was not issued for this dig and this law requirement has been reemphasized with appropriate disciplinary actions outlined to the VWC maintenance staff, according to Vaughan.
Miss Utility of Virginia is a part of the “Call-Before-You-Dig” system outlined in the Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act. This state law, established in 1979, requires that anyone who wishes to dig must call the Miss Utility hotline 48 hours before the scheduled dig. Upon requesting clearance, Miss Utility will notify the appropriate utility companies to come to the excavation site to locate and mark the underground equipment.
According to the Miss Utility of Virginia website, following this law can prevent possible damage to underground utility lines, injury, property damage and service outages.
The blackout left Wesleyan students with dark dorms, no Wi-Fi and cold showers. Faculty and staff suffered from relocated classrooms and delayed daily operations.
The power outage was of most inconvenience to the Fine Arts building, according to Associate Professor of Theatre Dr. Travis Malone.
“The Fine Arts building was out of power for the entire day,” Malone said. When the sewer lines were finally being repaired, bathrooms and other plumbing were out of service for over three days.“That had consequences for the art classes who need the water for their classes,” Malone said.
Although being the biggest facility on campus, the Jane P. Batten Student Activities Center was not as heavily impacted, according to Dean of Freshman and Director of the Batten Center Jason Seward.
“Some areas, such as the pool and fitness room, were impacted the greatest,” Seward said.
Aside from the normal effects a power outage has, the Batten Center continued to operate and serve the Marlin community. Seward and the rest of the Batten staff were active in making sure no one was in harm’s way.
“Whenever a power outage occurs that affects the Batten Center, the first thought is the safety of students, faculty and staff within. Our staff is trained to circulate the building on a more frequent rotation to make sure there are no issues present,” Seward said.
Unlike most of the panic and inconvenience that ensued upon students, Seward said the power outage was a blessing in disguise.
“In all actuality, the power outage was a breath of fresh air,” Seward said. “I thoroughly enjoyed being able to unplug from the everyday technological restraints that we have become accustomed to.”
Seward said this allowed him to better connect with students on a personal level and the change of pace from seeing students consumed by phones and laptops to personal conversations was well-needed.
“It was nice to see some ‘good old fashioned face-to-face communication,” he said.
Although it is not guaranteed that future issues similar to this power outage will not reoccur, precautionary steps are in place by the Virginia Wesleyan maintenance staff.
“If there is any doubt of what is in the ground or if mechanical equipment is used for digging, the area is to be marked for all utilities,” Vaughan said. “If an area is known to be congested with utilities, hand digging will be required.”
Vaughan said that if these steps were followed, this particular power cut would not have occurred.
The costs of damages have not been determined by Dominion Virginia Power, according to Vaughan.