Students power up, colleges upgrade

OXFORD, Ohio – In Steve Leslie’s dorm room at Miami University, there are bunk beds, posters of Led Zeppelin and the Simpsons, and an inflatable palm tree. There’s also a plug for every outlet.

They power the color TV, stereo, compact disc and DVD players, video game player, desktop computer and laptop, printer, scanner, refrigerator, microwave oven and two fans. Then there are rechargers for a cell phone, hand-held computer, camera, electric razor and toothbrush.

“I just keep adding stuff,” said Leslie, 20, a junior from nearby Amelia. “I fill up my car and my dad’s truck.

As students take more appliances and gadgets to school, colleges are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade electrical systems. The costs are often recouped by increasing room rates.

“What’s happening today on college campuses is as we renovate buildings we are having to double or triple the electrical service to student rooms,” Bertsos said. “Instead of having five or 10 amps to a room, you’ve got 20 or 30.”

New and renovated dorms at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth are being wired to handle the increasing load.

“Kids used to come to college with an AM radio and an electric razor. Now they arrive with every electronic device there is,” said Roger Fisher, director of residential services. `

As part of a $7 million renovation of one dorm, Ogden Hall, the university spent $212,548 in 2000 to add building substations, electrical distribution panels and electrical outlets. The 7,000 students who live on campus pay an extra $100 a year in housing fees to cover the renovation costs.

“These days the students lives are quite changed. They need more appliances,” said Takashi Kawai, a 64-year-old Dayton-area man whose son lives in a dorm at Miami.

Kawai, who helps pay for the schooling, said he can understand increasing fees if the rooms were expanded but not for simply expanding electrical capacity.

In a renovation a few years ago, Wright State doubled to four the number of electrical outlets in each of the 162 rooms at Hamilton Hall, increased the number of circuit breakers, installed new electrical-switch gear and rewired fuse boxes and student rooms. The cost was about $500,000, or $1,000 per student.

At Penn State University, electrical consumption in October was 33 million kilowatt hours, up from 27 million in October 1996. The school’s electric bill is about $1 million a month.

Paul Ruskin, with the university’s physical-plant office, said power use by the 13,000 student residents contributed to the increase.

But some officials say higher energy costs, campus expansions, lighting and the addition of computer labs and other energy-eating facilities are more to blame for increased power demand than student appliances.

And upgrading electrical systems in new and renovated dorms is often required by law under newer, more demanding building safety codes.

Andrew Matthews, of the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, said many dorms were built in the 1950s and 1960s and don’t have the electrical capacity for power-dependent students.

“I’m not so sure the students using more electronics is the problem,” said Matthews, chairman of the association’s facilities and service committee. “I think it goes back to the buildings.”

The new dorm houses 50 percent more students but has about four times the electrical capacity, said Andrew McCall, physical plant director. The number of electrical outlets per room were doubled to four.

Adolph Haislar, senior associate vice president for auxiliary services, said Miami University has been continually adding outlets and circuit breakers. For a dorm housing 300 students, that can cost about $300,000.

The school has been replacing incandescent lights in campus buildings with more efficient fluorescent ones and trying to conserve energy elsewhere to hold down costs.

“If we weren’t managing it, it would be pretty astronomical,” Haislar said. “It requires creative approaches to a problem that is not going to go away.”

Leslie acknowledges that he sometimes thinks his electrical baggage is a bit much: “I look at this room and think, ‘I can’t believe what I’ve done.”’

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