By MATT RIEDL
Some refer to the phenomena as the “ghost of St. De Mattias.”
It seems whenever Sr. Charlotte Rohrbach introduces the now-infamous skit in which Provost Michael Austin and Associate V.P. of Academic Services Rosemary Niedens portray Cardinal Newman and De Mattias, the lights in the Performance Hall flicker on and off, she said.
“Of course they’re in that building,” Rohrbach said. “Maria De Mattias really looks after this place, and for the most part, I say that flicker is her presence among us. It’s not even in the script; I just make it up on the spot.”
The seven-year-old lighting problem in De Mattias Hall’s theatre facilities may soon be remedied, though, said Jennifer Gantz, vice president of finance and administration.
House lights in the Performance Hall and Jabara Blackbox will frequently short out seemingly at random and then kick back on minutes later, much to the annoyance of Theatre Department faculty and Newman events staff, Technical Director Ben Juhnke said.
“It’s been happening ever since I’ve been here,” Juhnke said. “When I came in 2007, they were flashing then.”
The problem, Juhnke and Director of Facilities Bruce Sanderson both point to, is a possible voltage issue in the wiring of the house lights in the room, which to their knowledge have not been altered since the building was constructed in 2000.
“Various electricians have looked at it, but there’s been no work,” Juhnke said. “They’ve looked at it, gone up in the attic, and looked all around, and then for whatever reason we end up with a new electrician before anything’s ever done. We’ve gone through a lot of electricians.”
The problem was, for a while, temporarily remedied by replacing the dimmers on the house lights every time they would burn out, Juhnke said. However, the freshly-replaced dimmers would also fry quickly, and that was sucking $180 every time out of Theatre’s budget.
“They were just replacing them constantly,” Juhnke said. “When I left years ago, there were easily 20 or 30 spares. Those are all gone now.”
Various campus organizations use the spaces for events – Campus Activities Board, the Gerber Institute, and the Sloppy Joe Improv Troupe. However, they are also rented out frequently to outside groups, and Juhnke said he wants to make sure they do not leave with a sour opinion of the facilities.
Michelle Giammasi, who coordinates Events on campus, said she has not received any complaints from people who rent the spaces.
“We only rent to outside organizations in between music and theatre events when the space is available, which is getting less and less often,” Giammasi said in an email to The Vantage. “I have yet to receive any actual complaints from anyone that has rented the space so I can’t say whether or not they have been an issue.”
Newman does not have a fully licensed electrician on staff, so technically no one is qualified to address and fix the problem, Sanderson said.
The school typically takes bids from various local companies and contracts one out whenever there is a problem on campus requiring major electrical work, Gantz said.
“We look for the lowest, most affordable, but also most quality bid,” Gantz said.
“We don’t really encounter that many problems that we can’t handle,” Sanderson said. “You’ve got to work with the dollars you have, and we need staff that’s more general maintenance than just qualified or certified in one area.”
Sanderson said local theatre companies and electricians have been out to assess the problem in the past.
Both Gantz and Sanderson are fairly new on the job – Sanderson has only been at Newman for two months – but both said it is an issue that has been on the radar for a while.
“It’s definitely worth investigating, and looking what possibly could be done,” Sanderson said. “I think we just need to identify the real problem first.”
Gantz said the university has been preoccupied lately with snow and other facilities issues, like the flooding in Dugan Library, but she hopes to start getting electricians out to campus by the end of the month. Right now, the process is in a “very preliminary” stage, Sanderson said.
“As things start to slow down, I can’t imagine we couldn’t get a vendor in by the end of the month,” Gantz said. “I would hope before (next fall).”
This story first appeared in the
Mar. 6, 2014 issue of The Vantage