Blinded By the Light

I might be irritated about the fact that our library looks like a Christmas tree at night because I’m from California. Californians are notoriously hypersensitive about brown-outs, wildfires in triple-digit temperatures, earthquake drills that force us to cower under our desks, jokes involving “The Terminator” or our state’s crumbling off the edge of the continental U.S. But we are perhaps most sensitive when it comes to wasting.

Wasting really bugs me. And to make a generalization, most people out here on the East Coast just can’t be bothered to turn off the water while brushing their teeth, to recycle cereal boxes and milk cartons or to save leftovers.

But what really gets to me is waste’s becoming a university-endorsed policy. Whenever I pass by the sad, gutted beast that used to be our beloved library at night, I grit my Californian teeth and wonder, “Why the heck are there so many lights on?”

Initially, I assumed that workers were busy round the clock, laboring deep into the night in order to finish construction in a timely matter. But a nocturnal study of the site reveals that nobody is doing much of anything to our library at night. One of my friends suggested that perhaps it’s cheaper just to leave the lights on all day, rather than turning them on and off, ? la a car’s engine, but that didn’t make too much sense to me either.

I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery, so I emailed Associate Director for Construction and Manager of Capital Projects, Joe Bello. This was his reply to my query: “The purpose for the lights running 24/7 is for both security and life safety. If someone was to trespass or wander onto the site in the evening hours, Campus Safety could detect them quicker.” He also added, “This is a risk management decision and is encouraged by our insurance company.”

The key word in Joe’s email is “trespass.” We are wasting countless energy and dollars (you know it can’t be cheap) in case some lost student happens to “wander” onto the site, even though the area is clearly labeled and fenced off. Is it just me, or does trespassing sound like it wouldn’t happen? Most students seem too angry about the current state of the library to get anywhere near it, especially at night. The possibility of drunken debauchery certainly exists, but with all the precautions in place, it seems unlikely.

I talked to the Assistant Director of Campus Safety, Gert Neubauer who confirmed my suspicions. She could not remember any incidents, either this semester or last semester, in which Campus Safety had to deal with a trespasser on the construction site. I could look through every Campus Safety Blotter to find the exact number, but I’ll save myself the time. I think it’s safe to say, trespassing is just not happening. The lights are a total waste.

But I also read Bello’s nod to insurance loud and clear. This seems to be the main motivating force behind the decision, unnecessary and costly as it may be.

So then I guess my question is, “Why must there be so many lights?” I haven’t looked up close (that would be trespassing), but there seem to be a lot of them. Do Campus Safety officers suffer from poor vision to the point that they need lights on every corner of every floor to guide their way when chasing non-existent trespassers? I don’t think so.

As Frank Badalato wrote in last week’s Editor’s Column, this library construction has been riddled with problems from the beginning, many of them monetary. Is wasting electricity to placate an insurance company really the best way to be spending funds? Maybe. But at this point, I’d ready to head back to the less wasteful West Coast rather than deal with this wasteful project anymore.