The Peter Nicol Russel library, usually occupied by students from the Faculty of Engineering, became a biohazard drenched in human urine on Wednesday night.
It may come as a surprise to some readers that facilities could reach such a decrepit and unsafe state within The University of Sydney, a higher education institution that regularly ranks among the greatest in the world. To engineering students, it isn’t a surprise at all — but why is this?
Because it’s not the first time. The engineering precinct is regularly neglected by Campus Infrastructure Services (CIS). They were previously alerted to problems with the restrooms on the 10th of November 2020, the 13th of January 2021, and the 22nd of February 2021. On one occasion, every single male urinal and cubicle overflowed with discharge. On each of those occasions, no serious improvements or renovations were made to the restroom facilities.
These incidents speak to a more significant issue: the dilapidation of an entire precinct that is in dire need of renovation. Air-conditioners regularly leak fluid upon students. Doors to enter the library have been broken for months at a time and continue to fail when CIS sends staff to fix them. Additionally, after being ‘fixed’ by CIS, one door began oscillating between open and closed on a whim of its own, creating disruptively loud sounds for hours on end.
Over the most recent holiday period, a corridor along the library was closed for asbestos removal. A University of Sydney spokesperson assured Honi that “the University had every possible aspect in place to ensure that the material from the ETP site was removed safely.” Students were not notified that they had been in the presence of asbestos for years.
When asked why no long-term improvements had been made to the facilities, the University claimed that buildings were inspected on “a regular program” and that “where safety issues are identified [they] are rectified according to risk assessment.” The University’s spokesperson also blamed the issue upon hand wipes that had been flushed down the toilet pans, claiming that additional signage has been placed in the area.
The library was closed immediately due to the overwhelming smell and safety risk. A team of plumbers and cleaners were deployed overnight, and the library re-opened the next morning.
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. The fact that the Peter Nicol Russel building is invisible from the majority of the campus, and always ‘broken anyway’ as many students seem to claim — to the extent that there is a large Facebook page documenting breakages — cannot trivialise this warm, yellow, bubbling Watergate.