Icy times for JCE res students

Icy times for JCE res students
IT HAS  been a cold and uncomfortable winter for res students at the Johannesburg College of Education (JCE), who have been without hot water and electricity for the past three months.
Rob Sharman, the head of Residence Life, says that he first became aware of the issue three years ago, when there were occasional hot water shortages.
Back then it was an infrequent problem, says Sharman, and as such it was not necessary to take action. But the problem escalated in May this year, when students were without hot water and central heating for the entire exam period.
Sharman says that action is being taken, although he admits that the pace is “slow”.
In a letter to Nick Sothmann, director of the Gauteng Department of Public Transport, Roads and Works, Emmanuel Prinsloo of Wits stresses that the university is “embarrassed” by the matter. Prinsloo, director of the Wits Property, Infrastructure and Management Division (PIMD), writes that he has “been faced with angry, disappointed students and parents that are demanding a refund on paid residence fees.”
Prinsloo says in the letter that a breakdown in communication with the Gauteng department has been largely responsible for the crisis, and that agreements between the two parties have not been upheld.
The boiler room that supplies steam for hot water and central heating to the three JCE residences also supplies the Johannesburg General Hospital and the Wits Medical School.
The boilers are under the control of the Gauteng Department of Public Transport, Roads and Works. It is their duty to keep them running efficiently.
But the boiler room, which was built in the early 1970s, cannot be replaced because the government does not have the excess R40-million needed.
The boiler room contains five boilers, each the size of two double-decker busses. For there to be an adequate hot water supply, at least two of the boilers need to be working effectively. Only one-and-a-half are functioning at the moment.
Inability to supply central heating from the boilers leads to strain on the power supply. In total, the residences have 640 watts of power available. If forty four-bar heaters are used, they take up all the energy supplied to the four residences, leaving the students to sit in the dark.
“Everyone comes together at night, you feel safer. It was worse during exams. We needed to study, but there were no lights and no hot water,” said a student.
When there is a short supply of hot water, the JCE residences are in the back of the queue. First preference goes to the intensive care unit in the hospital, then to the operating theatres, neonatal units, kitchens and sterilisation rooms. One hot water pipe feeds all these facilities.
Prinsloo says that the university is working on a backup solution. Four gas boilers will be installed in the next two to three weeks to serve as heaters when there is a shortage of hot water.
In the meantime, the boilers are turned on at 3pm daily so that there is hot water by 9pm, which would last until 7am the following morning – when the boilers are turned off.
Sharman says that “the ladies of Highfield [residence] are understandably frustrated. Res management is also frustrated, but remains optimistic with the recent action taken by the PMID.”
But the backup boilers will not be able to provide central heating to the buildings.
These backup boilers cost around R250 000 to install. They are being funded by the Res Life offices. This will not affect the fees for accommodation next year.
Sharman and Prinsloo are in agreement that it has been a long and frustrating journey.
They are optimistic that three weeks from now spring will arrive and heaters will be put away.
Maybe then cold showers will be welcome.


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