On January 14, 2021, the pipes of the water heater in the Hanyang University (HYU) Student Union Building ruptured, causing an overwhelming flow of water especially on the fifth floor of the building. Following a spate of similar problems such as the collapse of old buildings in Yongsan and Gangnam in 2018 and continuous complaints regarding facilities by HYU students, this incident led to a growing apprehension toward the facility management of old buildings in HYU.
Despite the shortened time students spent at the campus due to COVID-19, t h e r e a r e v o i c e s e x p r e s s i n g t h e damage students received due to the mismanagement of old facilities at HYU. Regarding the rupture of water heater pipes in the Student Union Building on January 14, 2021, Lee Ha-heun, a Member of the HYU Broadcasting Station (HUBS), said, “Since the pipes ruptured right next to HUBS, I heard that our club will receive the most severe damage. The deluge of the water covered the electric wires and equipment as well as soaking diverse materials such as tapes and LPs we have kept for a long time. From the day of the accident, a number of our club members started handling the mess it made, but I heard that HYU did not take much part in recovering the damage from the accident, and only took care of the malfunction of the water heater.” After illustrating the massive impact the break in the water heater pipes had caused, she expressed additional concerns regarding the poor facility management of old buildings in HYU. She mentioned, “Apart from the problem of the crack in the pipes, I am not sure whether the heating system in the Student Union Building is working properly. HUBS members have often suffered from extreme cold even though when the heater was on.” Also, about the Hanyang Plaza, she said, “I heard that since Hanyang Plaza was such an old building by 2015, it was considered to be demolished five years later which is in 2020. However, even in 2021, many students do not know the upcoming plans regarding Hanyang Plaza, and it often goes through a remodeling rather than a reconstruction.”
While the inconvenience due to the insufficient facility maintenance was discussed among students, a concern about the material used for building construction was also expressed. Oh Jae-won, a Professor at HYU College of Medicine, pointed out the severity of damage asbestos could pose to the human body. Asbestos is a naturallyoccurring fibrous silicate mineral that used to be a common building material in the 20th century. However, in 1987, World Health Organization (WHO) designated asbestos as a carcinogen that promotes the formation of cancer, and the use of asbestos of all kinds was completely banned in 2009 in South Korea. Therefore, no more buildings in Korea were constructed with the use of asbestos from then. However, this could not provide an absolute protection for people from asbestos as buildings built before 2009 still included asbestos. Professor Oh said, “Students exposed to the minerals contaminated with asbestos fibers may be at risk for asbestos-related disorders such as asbestosis, which is a pneumoconiosis caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. In addition, a clinical diagnosis of asbestosis is difficult and most often made based on radiographic evidence of interstitial fibrosis combined with a history of asbestos exposure. The exposure must be of significant duration and/or intensity with symptoms manifesting after a legitimate latency period.” He added, “There are no effective therapies for asbestosis. Discontinuing asbestos exposure, smoking cessation, immunization against pneumococcal pneumonia, and yearly influenza vaccination is the best we can do.”
I n r e s p o n s e t o t h e c o n c e r n s considering the facility management of old buildings including the issue with the building materials, HYU mentioned the effort to keep the facilities safe for students and faculty members. About the incident on January 14, Shin Kyu-cheol, a Member of the HYU Maintenance Team, said, “The HUBS club room where the flood invaded, was specifically a reference room where documents and supplies were kept. Therefore, the central heating system was not provided, and the extreme cold of -18.6 degrees Celsius froze the pipes, which led to a fault in the surface. To solve this problem, on the day of the accident, the HYU Maintenance Team member shut the fire hydrant pump, closed the valve of the pipelines, and gathered HYU Property Management Team and Maintenance Team for water damage restoration. Also, after the temporary measure on January 14, the maintenance of the fire hydrant pipes was done on the morning of the next day.” About the diverse rumors of Hanyang Plaza, Shin said, “There is no plan of tearing down Hanyang Plaza for now, but it could be changed depending on the long-term construction plan of HYU Seoul Campus. Therefore, it is our best to take care of Hanyang Plaza with emergency maintenance and small scale of construction, including remodeling.” He added, “The safety of all of the buildings of HYU including the Student Union Building and Hanyang Plaza is checked through regular inspection and additional inspection when needed. Regular inspection is done three times a year, under the standard provided by the Ministry of Education, and additional inspection is done whenever there is a request from the users and managers of the building. Thus, students do not have to worry about the safety of old buildings.” Meanwhile, Shin also mentioned the continuous effort of HYU to deal with buildings built with asbestos, as a reply to the concern Professor Oh expressed. Shin said, “Among the remaining 91,501.83m2 of asbesetos in HYU, we plan to prioritize the removal of asbestos of the spaces the students spend the most time in such as the dormitories and classrooms, but there is a difficulty due to the hardship of the halt of the usage of those facilities. However, the demolition of buildings with asbestos is in process. The asbestos in the International Building, College of Education Annex, and the Convenience Store has already been removed, and HYU plans to remove the asbestos in Student Residence Hall III firstly at the end of January, and secondly at the beginning of March in 2021.”
Looking at the reports of regular inspection and upcoming plans regarding the facilities, HYU is doing its best to guarantee the safety of the buildings used by students and faculty members. However, considering the survey results below, the majority of the students are not satisfied with the facility management of HYU and what most inconvenienced students was the air conditioning. In other words, it is possible to say that even though HYU holds regular inspections to check the condition of the buildings, it does not have a full understanding of the dissatisfaction from the practical use of the buildings. To solve this problem, communication between students and HYU is needed. As HYU mentioned that it holds additional inspections to regular inspections whenever requests are submitted, students will be able to advance the quality of campus life if they try to contact HYU for solving a problem rather than only complaining about it.