Bronx Community College shifts to remote learning in struggle to keep heat on

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Classes have shifted to a remote format for Bronx Community College students after an ongoing struggle to provide heat in campus buildings.
Photo courtesy Bronx Community College

Plagued with a nonfunctioning heating system that the school has known about for months, Bronx Community College has turned to online classes.

In what the school administration calls a temporary switch, the move is the latest development in the college’s struggle to turn the heat on this season. Bronx Community College (BCC) is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) public college system.

Students attended classes through October with no heat, and as temperatures fluctuated throughout the month. But as time went on, the unseasonably warm days became few and far between. Alexander Wolf, a BCC biology professor and union activist, said that on top of students wearing jackets in class, he also had to end classes early because students were too cold.

“It must be hard to learn if you’re shivering,” he told the Bronx Times. “If you’re cold, that affects your ability to concentrate and to participate and to learn, and so it’s just another obstacle that our students are forced to try and overcome in order to get a decent education.”

Students were notified on Oct. 3 by Kay Ellis, vice president of administration and finance, that the transition from cooling to heating on campus would take about three weeks. Ellis acknowledged cold temperatures and asked staff to shut building windows.

Then on Oct. 7, an email from Marissa Danzy, chief administrative superintendent of physical plant services, shed more light on why the heat hadn’t been turned on yet.

The opacity monitoring systems, which monitor exhaust gases from boilers and are legally required, were deemed nonfunctional at the end of the last heating season, said Danzy, who began her position on July 1. She said that new monitoring systems, which were ordered during the summer, were expected to arrive in the coming week and would take up to three weeks to install.

And that wasn’t the only problem.

The boiler safety valves had to be serviced “for overdue and compliance related maintenance.” On top of that, one of the campus boilers (which contributes 40% of campus heating) was inoperable following “major damage endured” last season, she said. According to Danzy, initiating the repairs had been a months-long process and the college administration expected the system to be functioning by the end of October.

That prediction was echoed by BCC president Thomas Isekenegbe on Oct. 21. But on Oct. 28, Danzy estimated that the system would be ready on Nov. 3, citing delays. On Friday, Nov. 4, Isekenegbe said the boilers were ready to be put into operation in a process that would continue through the weekend, and on that Monday, Nov. 7, he announced the heat was operating in all but one building.

But issues persisted.

According to the Professional Staff Congress union, which represents CUNY faculty and professional staff, certain buildings had heat while others did not during that second week of November. Bryan Cortes, a BCC senior who also works on campus as a computer lab technician, said he noticed some buildings were far too hot, while others had no heat or were blowing air that wasn’t heated.

Around 5 p.m. Tuesday, Isekenegbe emailed the campus community that the school continued to experience “intermittent heating issues,” so classes would move to a remote format starting the next day. Cortes said some students weren’t aware of the switch until they were already on the way to campus on Wednesday.

The online classes would continue for a week, according to Isekenegbe, at which points students have a break for Thanksgiving.

A spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams’ office said his office is in communication with CUNY about the heating issues, and echoed that the school is working on fixing the problem in time for students and faculty to return after Thanksgiving break.

Cortes isn’t confident the problem will be solved after the holiday.

“Right now I believe, my personal assumption is, that they’re going to try their best to try to get the heating fixed by Nov. 28th,” Cortes said. “But I believe the issues are bigger than what they are making it seem.”

James Davis, the president of the union, said in a statement Wednesday that the heat malfunctioning is the culmination of yearslong problems.

“Bronx Community College can’t keep the heat working because years of delayed maintenance and underfunding have left CUNY short staffed and unable to keep our buildings in safe, working order,” he said. “The cold that BCC students, 93% of whom are Black and Latinx, felt in class this week was a chilling reminder of how little regard the political establishment has for our communities. And Mayor Adams, who cut CUNY’s City funding by 3% last year, is cutting another 3%! Our union shouldn’t have had to demand a shift to online classes to keep students, faculty, and staff safe. BCC should have had heat. The people of the Bronx should be furious!”

Bronx Community College does not have campus housing.

CUNY did not answer why the heat is not working at this time or which buildings did and did not have heat this week. BCC spokesperson Richard Ginsberg echoed the mayor’s office’s sentiment that the school is working on fixing the heating issues for after Thanksgiving break, and said the food pantry and athletic games are running normally.

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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