The heat hasn’t worked all semester at a CUNY community college that primarily serves low-income, non-white students – with no relief in sight as temperatures are set to soon drop.
A campuswide heat outage has persisted for weeks at Bronx Community College, with temperatures in classrooms at times dropping below 60 degrees, according to students and staff.
BCC President Thomas Isekenegbe last month sent an email to employees saying the boilers would be “fully operational” by the end of October.
But that deadline has come and gone, and the heat still hasn’t been fixed. The administration keeps changing the time frame to fix the boilers, according to Yasmin Edwards, an associate biology professor. She and other employees said they’re not confident the heating system will be fixed before temperatures are forecast to drop to the 40s next week.
“They did not tell us at the beginning of October that there were going to be delays turning on the heat. They didn't tell us that until the complaints began to start piling up,” Edwards said. “Heat in the winter, and AC in the summer, we have to fight for that – basic levels of comfort.”
New York City law requires heat be provided from Oct. 1 through May 31 in residential and commercial buildings. When the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees, inside temperatures are required to be at least 68 degrees.
Chantel Boone, who works in the bursar’s office, said she and her coworkers often seek relief from the chill by taking breaks outside in the sun.
“It's colder inside than it is out here,” Boone said. “A lot of staff and, you know, students come outside to sit because it's warmer outside than it is in there.”
Staff members have complained about their fingertips turning blue, and employees with medical conditions like anemia and neuropathy have experienced intense discomfort, according to an Oct. 19 email from assistant professor Diane Banks to the administration.
Edwards said simple requests to allow classes to be held online and for staff to work remotely have been ignored by the administration.
A spokesperson for the school said in a statement that they are making repairs, but did not answer questions about the cause of the outage and when the heat is expected to be turned on.
“Bronx Community College is working diligently to get the boilers fixed and will keep the campus community regularly informed and up to date with the most pertinent information on the restoration of our heating system,” said BCC spokesperson Richard Ginsberg.
Heating problems are nothing new for the school, which is the oldest community college in the CUNY system. Half of its 34 buildings are at least 80 years old, according to the college.
A burst pipe at BCC’s Colston Hall in January 2019 flooded the 63-year-old building and destroyed its heating system.
Faculty in February 2020 passed a vote of “no confidence” against the administration for “allowing gross physical deterioration throughout campus, including a lack of proper lighting and inadequate indoor heating.” Last year, Bronx Community College requested $32 million in capital funding to replace “the aging boiler plant” by September 2024, warning that “without the upgrade, there is an increased risk of irreparable system failure with significant programmatic and operational impact.”
In an Oct. 21 email to BCC staff, Isekenegbe said it was not yet safe to turn on the heat.
“I would like to reassure the campus that we have had an orchestra of tradespeople working to support this effort, but only once all the milestones above are complete, may we begin testing components, warming up and bringing our boilers online, or 'lighting off' as it is termed,” Isekenegbe wrote in the email. “We anticipate the boilers to be fully operational by the end of the month.”
For now, the mild fall weather has helped stave off complaints. Several students interviewed by Gothamist said they have not noticed issues with the temperature.
But Kenneth Newton said his professor recently canceled class in a lab at Meister Hall because it was so chilly. Another chemistry professor brought a small space heater that barely warmed the room, he said.
“It makes it feel hard to focus because you have divided attention,” Newton said. “You have to focus on the cold that you're feeling.”
Edwards, the biology professor, said the chronically broken heating system is indicative of the lack of investment in the school community, which serves a majority non-white, low-income student body where 72% of students are on financial aid and 50% of students worry about food and housing.
She echoed complaints from several CUNY faculty across the system, who point to falling ceiling tiles and broken equipment as signs the university desperately needs to invest in infrastructure.
“What I think it means is it reinforces the unfortunate ways in which our society shows students of color that they don't value them,” Edwards said.
Like many community colleges across the country, enrollment has declined at BCC and other CUNY two-year schools during the pandemic. In 2020, the city counted 91,715 students enrolled in CUNY’s community colleges, compared to 73,031 students in 2022.
While administrators have promised staff that space heaters will be deployed “strategically with safety and comfort as a priority,” Edwards said they are afraid of overloading the campus’s electrical system.
“They're actually concerned about distributing space heaters, because the electrical infrastructure is ancient,” Edwards said. “They're a fire hazard, and a particular one at BCC, because the electrical infrastructure is so old.”
The BCC spokesperson did not respond to questions about space heaters and the school’s electrical system.
“BCC is just the place that they forgot when it comes to major repairs,” Edwards added. “Because it was ignored for so long, even when they tried to do some repairs, it's like a patch.”