Students at the Peter Nicol Russel Learning Hub were disappointed – but not surprised – as human faeces overflowed from the bathrooms this Wednesday.
Engineers familiar with Newton’s Third Law will already know that for every PNR, there also exists a PooNR, and the University’s failure to maintain the space has now resulted in multiple bio-hazardous incidents.
Just over a year since the infamous Pissgate incident in which PNR overflowed with urine, the very same bathrooms have yet again resulted in an unsafe (and gross) environment for students.
The issue was reported at 5pm yesterday to the University Health and Safety team, with a Health and Safety Senior Partner promptly responding: “Thanks for letting me know. I’ll alert our campus services team immediately and get a plumber across to rectify.”
As of 3:30pm today, the bathrooms had not been fixed or cleaned.
The University responded to a request for comment at 5:35pm today: “We apologise for the delay in addressing this issue. The toilets are now unblocked and will reopen shortly.”
“The case was incorrectly classified as non-urgent in the reporting system. As soon as we spotted the error, we took action. We respond urgently to all health and safety issues, and monitor for such cases 24 hours a day to ensure they are appropriately investigated and resolved.”
In relation to Pissgate, the University attributed fault to incorrect use of the bathrooms.
“We are aware there have been previous incidents of blocked urinals in this building. None of these incidents have been the result of faulty infrastructure, but of objects flushed down the toilet pans. Signage is in place to advise all users not to flush hand wipes and to place these in the bins provided.”
Upon Honi’s inspection, the smell was particularly egregious. The men’s bathrooms were in an unusable condition, with human faeces and toilet paper on the floor near the sinks. The tiled floor itself was partially flooded, and multiple sinks were filled with water and trace amounts of faeces.
Images and witness accounts confirm that the women’s bathroom is in a similar state of contamination.
Bella Anderssen, Vice-President of the Sydney University Engineering Undergraduate Association (SUEUA), spoke to Honi about the issues facing students in PNR.
“I think PNR is an often-overlooked space on campus, and the fact that we are subjected to these conditions is not conducive to a healthy learning environment. It’s fucking gross,” she said.
Recalling last year’s incident, Anderssen noted that “the fact that this happened twice in two years is fucked. The fact that this is a staple of the Engineering experience does not speak well about the University of Sydney.”
Similarly, SUEUA President Riley Vaughan, was concise in his response: “It’s pretty poopy.”
The issue was reported to the Health and Safety team by Sean Auer, Engineering undergraduate representative on the Academic Board. Auer notified other engineers by posting on the SUEUA Members 2022 Facebook group that “maintenance (should) be on the way according to Health and Safety Manager.”
“In meantime best to avoid clogged sinks/urinals to avoid pissgate pt. 2!”
Auer spoke to Honi about the incident, explaining that “I alerted an Eng [sic] faculty Health and Safety manager yesterday to an urgent WHS issue in the PNR bathrooms, to which they promptly replied and said the issue had been escalated to the campus services team. So my individual experiences with staff has been positive and attentive.”
“However the fact that the same catastrophic sewerage overflow has occurred for the second time in the space of a year is indicative of the systemic, critical failure of the university to properly fund and perform essential maintenance across the faculty.”
The University is well aware of the issues facing PNR. Cole Scott Curwood, USU Board Director and 2021 SUEUA President, said in a statement to Honi: “Last year, I was the undergraduate member of the University Executive WHS Committee due to my role on the SRC Executive. I reported to the committee in early 2021 on the regular infrastructure problems in the PNR Building.”
“This included last year’s PNR bathroom incident. The response to my report was immediate, but the sewerage currently sitting in the PNR bathrooms evidences that systemic issues remain.”
In response to questions about funding for dilapidated infrastructure on campus – including PNR – the University told Honi: “We inspect our buildings and infrastructure on a regular program. Where safety issues are identified, these are rectified according to risk assessment.”
Bathroom issues seem to plague the engineering faculty, with students reporting multiple issues in the new Engineering and Technology Precinct (J03). Livy Smith, President of Sydney University Queer STEM Society (QUEST), told Honi that the society has already received many complaints that most of the women’s toilets in the new $200 million building do not have sanitary bins.
These issues compound the existing infrastructure failures of PNR. For example, a specific heavily duct-taped pipe in the learning hub tends to drip water intermittently throughout the day, and consistently at 6pm every day. Engineering students report that this has been occurring since at least November 2021, and has developed a large patch of mould on the carpet below the leak.
Vaughan’s words on Pissgate unfortunately once again ring true: “This incident cannot be allowed to become normalised, humorous, or unimportant. It is unsafe for students to be allowed to stew in the fumes of human waste.”
This article was updated at 5:54pm April 14 to include comment from the University.