Power outage to keep Duquesne University students out of dorms until Sunday

| Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 1:18 p.m.

Midterm exams can be tough enough, but hundreds of Duquesne University students are preparing for them while exiled from dormitory rooms until Sunday as workers wrestle with a broken power-generating system.

Freshman Ryan Schott, 19, of Atlanta was ambivalent when power went out early Thursday, forcing him to spend the night on a couch in the ballroom of the Duquesne Union building. His outlook changed when he learned he would spend the weekend couch surfing.

St. Ann, St. Martin and Assumption halls, which house about one-third of the 3,700 students living in seven dormitories on campus, won't reopen until noon Sunday, the university said.

“Well, life just got five times harder,” said Schott, who lives in St. Ann and is studying to become a physician's assistant.

Of the 1,300 students affected, 47 percent live within an hour's drive of campus, university spokeswoman Bridget Fare said.

The Uptown university expects to restore electricity in the residence halls or power them with generators, Fare said.

Duquesne generates 85 percent of its electricity through a natural gas turbine in a campus plant, she said. The rest of its power comes through a renewable energy exchange.

While some colleges generate a limited amount of their own electricity, 85 percent is not typical, said Gregory Reed, director of the Electric Power Initiative and associate director of the Center for Energy at the University of Pittsburgh.

“(By) being connected to a utilities distribution network, there is usually some sort of redundant feed or a way to reroute the power to get the power back on. So if you are isolated, and you're supplying your own power … the risk is you're really subjected to your own reliability,” Reed said.

Said Fare, “We haven't had a problem like this since the early 1990s, which I think demonstrates our ability to manage the electrical systems on campus.”

Crews traced the power loss to a faulty cable in a tunnel under Academic Walk, the brick-paved main pedestrian path, the university said.

Duquesne has its own power lines, so switching to a power provider would not be a quick or easy task, Fare said.

The university called, emailed and text-messaged students to tell them the dorms would be closed.

It advised them to stay with friends or family members, and it set up cots in Duquesne Union for those with nowhere to go. That building will stay open 24 hours.

The university told students who planned to use the cots to bring their own pillows and blankets, Schott said.

Eighty cots were ready, but only five students slept there on the first night, Fare said.

“It was definitely quiet. ... I fell asleep pretty quickly,” said Schott, who opted for a nearby couch.

A few stayed in lounges in dorms that were open, she said.

Most displaced students went to friends' rooms in other dorms, Fare said. The students can shower in Power Center, a physical fitness center, or other dorms.

“We understand the inconvenience, but the students have been really great and remarkably understanding,” Fare said.

Schott's roommate, who is from Miami, slept in the Duquesne Union, too.

Freshman Angel Ojeda, 19, a biochemistry major, retrieved clothing and belongings from his dorm on Friday. With exams impending, Ojeda grabbed his chemistry book.

“Now I don't have an excuse for not studying,” he said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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