panel crashes from russell hall

A 200 pound concrete slab fell from the third floor of Russell Hall Monday. No one was hurt, but college officials have cordoned off the area below as a precaution until repairs are made on the 46-year-old building. / Daniel Lim / el Don

By: C. Harold Pierce

A large decorative mosaic panel broke loose and fell to the ground from the third floor of Russell Hall last Monday, leaving many students worried about their safety on campus.

“I’ve never really felt unsafe here. I’ve never had a reason to until now,” said student Justine Cunningham.

The eight-foot-wide mosaic panel, which weighs about 200 pounds, was screwed to the guardrail of the building before it fell from the east side of Russell Hall at noon.

The slab broke into two pieces and scattered tiles across the ground. No one was hurt during the incident.

Because of construction near campus entrances, there was less foot traffic near the building.

“The only saving grace is we had the construction fence underneath it, otherwise that would have been a high traffic through way and someone could have been hurt,” Lt. James Wooley, district safety and security supervisor, said.

Classes at Russell Hall are ongoing.

Many of the existing mosaic panels, which are secured by eight brackets, are missing screws, while those still intact are coming loose. The screws have not yet been replaced. The panels were installed in 1967 when Russell Hall was constructed.

College officials are regarding the incident as a wake-up call to expedite renovations of aging campus facilities.

“We need to pay attention to Russell and do what we have to in the short term to move that project forward,” said SAC President Erlinda Martinez. “Time is of the essence— that building is coming down on its own.”

An engineer assessed the safety of remaining tiles on Russell Hall the same day and found the decorative panels to be unsafe, said Facilities Manager Mark Wheeler.

The walkway has been taped off to protect passersby from potentially unstable panels until repairs are made.

“When working overhead, it’s hard to ensure safety, so we try to do it when there’s a minimum of students around,” Wheeler said, adding that there is a possibility remaining panels will be removed.

Money to fix the panel will likely come from emergency funds left over from Measure E, but costs have not been determined.

The building, which is used primarily for science labs and lectures, is slated for construction before 2015 as part of the ongoing campus projects.

“We have to ensure our buildings, such as Russell, are safe. We try to limit the frequency and severity of the infrastructure failures … Unfortunately, we must continue to expend resources on repairing the old buildings and infrastructure,” Vice President of Administrative Services Michael Collins said.

College officials planned to have the panels removed or repaired last weekend.