Flawed HSS Building

The irony runs high when it comes to the "Humanities and Social Sciences" building on Santa Monica College's main campus. A building built to be "green" is littered with ventilation and circulation issues such as extreme air pressure, noisy motors, and overheating rooms. "The suction was so great and the room is so tightly sealed that the door is extremely difficult to open," said Professor James Stramel of the philosophy department. "Some of my female students can't open the door; I had a male student on crutches who couldn't open the door during final exams."

Professor Stramel moved into the HSS building when it was first constructed. He knows all too well what the problems are.

"The problem is not with the air quality. The issue is the air pressure. It's been like this since the beginning," said Stramel.

When Stramel cracks the windows to release some of the suction, he must first prop the windows with an eraser because the latches on the windows don't catch.

"I'm a philosopher, not a mechanic; but the latches on the windows don't catch. What's also annoying is the ventilator or whatever it is. When it's off it's fine, but when it kicks on it's noisy and distracting," said Stramel.

There's no air conditioning in the HSS building.  However, it is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, silver standard building. LEED is a nationally accepted third party certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

"I like the building generally, but the ventilation has been a real problem," said Stramel. "It's diminishing the educational experience for both professors and students."

"It's just surprising for a brand new building to have these problems," said English Professor Carol Davis. "Some of the rooms have poor ventilation."

This spring semester, Professor Davis has a class on the second floor and had previously taught on the first floor, which she thinks to be worse in the HSS building.

The problems don't end with the professors. It's also taking an effect on some students.

"On hot days the ventilator gets turned up, then I can't hear what the professor says," said sophomore business major Guy Matalon. "I feel the ventilator doesn't work throughout the building. Every class is crowded so it makes it even more suffocating and hot," he said.

Bruce Wyban, the Mechanical Systems Supervisor for SMC, is in charge of HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), electricity, and plumbing. And though he wasn't at the college when the HSS was built, he's inherited everyone's concerns.

"The building is designed to have the windows open for the ventilation system to work; if the latches on the windows aren't operating, that's new news to me and I'll have to talk with our head of construction to check each window," said Wyban.

The HSS building is designed with both "supply fans" and "exhaust fans" on the roof. This allows outdoor air in and takes it out.

According to Wyban, in order for the ventilation system to properly work, the combination of both fresh air coming in through the windows and the fans is necessary.

"There's a code requirement to bring in a minimum amount of fresh air into the building to flush out high levels of carbon dioxide," said Wyban. "By design, the required amount of air coming in and out (of the HSS) needs to come in from both the windows and roof for it to meet its requirement."

"The problem occurs when the windows are closed. For noise and other issues people want to keep the windows closed, but then the fans are drawing out more than the windows take in. That's when the room goes negative," said Wyban.

The HSS building is not an automated system, opening and closing the windows. The windows and fans are dependent on the balance of ventilation, but independent on how they work.

Though the matters with the HSS have caused problems for some, not everyone seems to take notice.

Sophomore Michael Bates, who is a nursing major, sat in a classroom in the HSS building studying.

"I haven't noticed anything; everything seems to be fine," said Bates. "As long as I get an A."