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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

Ponder students struggle to escape the heat

Cody Ferguson
The rental unit bought by Housing and Residence Life for supplementing Ponder’s HVAC system.

In the sweltering heat of this past summer, students were expecting to be able to come back to their rooms and cool off. This hasn’t been the case for the great majority of students in Ponder Hall. 

“The Ponder Hall HVAC system has been unable to keep up with demand,” said Vollie Barnwell, director of housing and residence life.

The nearly record setting temperatures and air moisture have been a particular struggle for the HVAC system of Ponder Hall. 

“The humidity in addition to the outside temperatures have made it extremely difficult for the HVAC system to keep up,” Barnwell said.

Asheville area temperatures and humidity over the past several weeks have exceeded the normal range, and several other issues have been plaguing the HVAC system in place at Ponder Hall.

“The Ponder Hall HVAC system is designed with chilled beam units in each bedroom. These individual units have humidity sensors as part of the design,”  Barnwell said. 

When humidity in an individual student’s room reach a certain threshold, the unit will automatically shut off to prevent leaking water from the unit.

“My AC has not been functioning and my room has been extremely hot, even though I constantly have a fan running,” said Ethan Burke, second-year student and resident of Ponder Hall. 

Due to the way the system functions within Ponder, students are encouraged to keep their windows and exterior doors closed to prevent excess humidity from turning off the system within their rooms according to Barnwell.

“Instead of waiting on the building air to dry out on its own, we’ve begun placing dehumidifiers in rooms. The results have been positive so far. In most cases, after 2-4 hours, the humidity level drops significantly in the room and the chilled beam unit comes on and cool air begins circulating in the room,” Barnwell said. 

Housing and Residence Life continues to offer support to all students, offering fans, dehumidifiers or cleaning services. They are also encouraging all students who have cooling issues to email [email protected] with their service requests.

“I did contact maintenance through email and they had a team sent to my room to clean the unit in my bedroom,” Burke said.

Even with the updates to the situation, Burke said that he’s unsure that student comfort is a priority due to the pace at which they were fixing the issues.

“The ground source heat pump system had multiple leaks discovered in the underground well field this summer. In July, the last of those leaks was repaired. Because of the leaks, sediment and debris were introduced into the piping and the entire system had to be flushed after the final leak was repaired and before students returned in August,” Barnwell said.

These leaks and subsequent tainting of the system have led to an insufficient number of the circuits operating. For normal operation, 80 percent of the system needs to be functioning. The system was only operating at 50-60 percent of the full capacity. This has led to many students having opposite experiences with the air conditioning system.

“There are some rooms in Ponder that are cooling fine because of where those rooms are located in the building, but we also recognize that for many of you, your experience this far in Ponder has not been what you expected or needed,” Barnwell said.

Freshman resident Michael Messele said he was unaffected by the issues with the Ponder Hall HVAC system, but he felt well informed of the situation should something change.

“As technicians have worked to rebuild the heat pump circuits that are not operating correctly, there continue to be supply chain issues, and that process of rebuilding and repairing all the circuits has not happened as quickly as we had hoped,” Barnwell said.

To accommodate the building during the repairs, Housing and Residence Life acquired a rental chiller unit to compensate for the issues the current Ponder HVAC system is having. This unit was put in place on Aug. 30

“The repairs continue on the heat pump circuits and we are hopeful that additional heat pumps will be brought back online by early next week,” Barnwell said.

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