The ANU Residential Halls are home to nearly 6,000 students; however, a growing number of infrastructure problems across the halls have impacted residents’ ability to live and study.
Woroni interviewed a number of residents from Bruce Hall, Wright Hall, Burton and Garran Hall, Fenner Hall and Yukeembruk about their experiences with residential infrastructure, how it affects their day-to-day lives and what they want to see changed.
On Friday the 24th of February, Bruce Hall experienced a substantial sewage leak on Floor 2. The leak resulted in the closure of the Bruce Dining Hall, forcing Bruce to dine at the Hive at Wright Hall until Tuesday the 9th of March.
The movement of Bruce residents to the Wright dining hall, according to one resident, “led to massive lines for food for both Bruce and Wright ressies.” According to another resident, their floor lost wastewater and the toilets no longer operated. A number of residents of Floor 2 were forced to move rooms, and the administration offered no change in rent or other services as compensation.
Maintenance contractors fixed the leak promptly by Tuesday the 28th with the final cleanup finished by the 9th of March. The overwhelming sentiment from Bruce residents was that sewage problems should have been foreseen during the designing stages of large residential Halls. Bruce residents were unsure why this was not the case and how a fault in the sewage system had the ability to reach the dining hall.
An ANU spokesperson clarified that “The sewage system wasn’t broken.” but that students should not flush “wet wipes and other large materials” down the toilet. The spokesperson added that the sewage leak was not the fault of construction but of students using the toilets incorrectly, adding “Residents are asked not to flush waste not meant for a toilet down a toilet.”
Bruce residents were mostly satisfied with the speed at which the ANU repaired the fault, but it highlights the nuisance and damage caused by infrastructural issues.
Throughout a period of heavy rain, Burton and Garran Hall suffered significant water damage that is still affecting residents’ day to day lives. The Hall’s roof has been undergoing repair for this damage since at least the start of the year, but according to one resident there is still severe leaking to the extent that “SR’s have spent entire duty shifts moving, emptying and replacing buckets all over the building to contain the leaks.”
The same resident told Woroni that the roof of the Burton and Garran function room had collapsed due to water leakage problems. This resident was especially concerned that the high prevalence of water leakage, and hence dampness, would lead to severe instances of mould. Due to Burton and Garran being an older Hall with limited circulation and carpeted rooms, this poses significant health risks to residents.
Consumer Advocacy Group, Choice, outlines that your landlord has responsibility for repairing any damage like mould, that is caused by infrastructure flaws in the building.
While the ANU Occupancy Agreement does not contain any specific detailing of the accommodation providers responsibilities it outlines one of the resident’s responsibilities “to maintain the Room in good order and condition and promptly notify the University of any damage or fault in the Room and/or any requirement for maintenance.” This, in conjunction with Australian law, implies that the Halls have a responsibility to quickly action maintenance requests once they are received. A fast response is even more necessary in this case as mould has significant health risks including respiratory issues, skin irritation and exacerbating asthma symptoms.
An ANU spokesperson told Woroni that current repairs to Burton and Garran’s roof “…is the hail remediation work currently taking place across the entire campus.”
In a sign of Burton and Garran Halls’ slow response to infrastructural issues, the same resident informed Woroni that over half of the ovens in the Hall’s kitchen do not work properly and this has been an ongoing, unfixed issue for at least four years.
For Fenner Hall, the first weeks of the semester saw an increase in the prevalence of students participating in the ‘Wake up Fenner’ game. Students walking down University Avenue late at night, and into the morning, shout ‘wake up fenner’ at the South Tower.
One Fenner resident detailed how it routinely prevented him, and many of his friends in South Tower, from getting good quality sleep as students’ shouts often wake them up throughout the night.
The same student questioned whether this was an architectural flaw with the design of Fenner, elaborating that “Fenner is obviously located in the centre of campus, at Kambri, where it is often loud during the day and a walkway for drunk, loud students at night. You would think with that in mind that you would design the Hall with some sort of proper sound-proofing.”
An ANU spokesperson, noting Fenner’s central location, said “It is not unreasonable for there to be some noise at times.”
Fenner students have also reported issues with Unisafe watching and allowing students to yell up at Fenner residents.
ANU’s newest residential Hall, Yukeembruk, opened this year and according to residents there have been a number of infrastructural challenges in the early weeks of this semester. These include very frequent false fire alarms, problems with access within buildings, and issues with washing facilities.
A Yukeembruk resident elaborated on the fire alarms, “there have been close to 15 false fire alarms across the buildings, especially Building 166 and 168. They happen at random times of the day, but the ones late at night or early in the morning are the worst.” False fire alarms mean an evacuation of the entire building for a period which is, according to another resident, “usually about 20 minutes.”
Another resident commented that “I am really confused about why they sound. Nobody seems to know. The worst bit is I often smell cigarette smoke around the building which does not seem to set off alarms, but the alarms go off by themselves which worries me.” While only some residents have noticed this, it suggests issues with the proper functioning of the alarms in cases of actual smoke.
The residents say fire truck sirens and lights are now a common sight at Yukeembruk and while they have learnt to continue with their lives, there is consensus that it needs to be fixed.
The ANU told Woroni that “The fire alarms aren’t broken” and that they activate “in the instance of smoke or heat detection.” The University added that a significant thunder storm a few weeks agao caused a “small number” of alarms to short circuit but that these alarms are now functioning.
Yukeembruk residents also raised the lack of washing machines. One resident pointed out that “my building had no washing machines for the first few weeks of the semester; we now have some but have no dryers.”
Another provided more detail: “there are about five working dryers in the entire village of 700 residents.” Despite the lack of laundry facilities for many weeks at the start of the semester, Yukeembruk continued to advertise laundry facilities as a feature of the Hall.
The same resident also highlighted that “Yukeembruk has been good in addressing this though, bringing in temporary washing machines while the other ones are stuck in customs and making the washing machines and dryers free. While ressies have been great adapting to it and making it work.” This echoes other residential Halls, where the residents have been able to, or had to, adapt to the infrastructural challenges. However, with rents at the ANU exceeding $500 dollars a week in some Halls it raises the question of whether students should be expected to adapt.
Residents also raised how lightning had struck Yukeembruk Village Hall, their keycards sometimes do not work for parts of the building, and occasionally for their rooms, amongst other issues.
The residents Woroni spoke to were understanding of Yukeembruk being new and attributed the problems to this fact. However, all of them noted that as the infrastructural issues are continuing, it is becoming more disruptive to their lives.
The many and ongoing infrastructure problems within ANU Halls, coupled with the recent controversial rises in lock-out charges and the seemingly exponential increases in rent, makes on-campus living difficult for many residents
Editor’s update: This article was amended on the 4th of April to include the ANU’s comment on the matters discussed.
We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and emerging. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.