Facilities department upgrades underground utilities: University’s remaining tunnels untouched

The underground tunnel leading to Crocker Hall. (Gatepost Archives)

Framingham State’s Facilities and Capital Planning Operations department completed a $1.9 million project to upgrade campus underground utilities, according to Patricia Whitney, assistant vice president of facilities operations.

The project was undertaken late last spring and finished in the summer.

Whitney said in an email that the project “included new steam and condensate lines, as well as other utilities” in a portion of one of the school’s underground tunnels located near Hemenway and Dwight halls.

There is a series of underground tunnels connecting May, Crocker, Horace Mann, Peirce, and Hemenway halls.

According to the school’s website, the first tunnels were constructed in 1901 between Crocker and May halls for electrical wires and drainage pipes. By 1920, the series of underground tunnels were not only used to carry wires and pipes, but were frequently used by students to get from one building to another – especially during inclement weather.

It’s been over 40 years since the tunnels have been open for regular use. The book, “Framingham State College,” by R. Marc Kantrowitz and Marianne Larson states “the tunnels were closed for safety reasons,” yet those reasons have not been disclosed.

Whitney said due to aging, “a large portion” of one of the tunnels was filled in as part of the underground utilities’ upgrades. She said the project has been completed and there are currently “no projects in the near term for changing the other tunnels.”

She added, “As with all facilities, we will continue to monitor their function and condition and will recommend projects, if needed, in the future.”

Dale Hamel, executive vice president, said in an email that the project to upgrade underground utilities was paid for with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts General Obligation Bonds funding, and that no University funds were used.

Hamel said the project began in Fiscal Year 2017 “prior to when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance completed their Strategic Capital Planning Process,” which resulted in allocated “Critical Repairs” funding for 2019 through 2023.

Critical repairs include anything related to necessary maintenance of University infrastructure.

He said, “The deficiencies in this particular tunnel were identified during the Hemenway Laboratories Project” and led to a review of the other tunnels. The only tunnel that needed to be addressed was the aging portion of the one filled in during this project.

He added, “The degradation of tunnels is often related to water infiltration – the other tunnels have not experienced significant issues so they will continue to be used as part of the utilities infrastructure system.”

In regards to the preservation of the underground tunnels, Hamel said, “Little maintenance is needed,” and any work that is required is usually performed as part of the University’s annual renewal projects funded by the College Operations Budget.

Jared Archer, a senior, said he’s read “there have been creatures” in the tunnels and that they’re “a little damp.” He added, “Supposedly, it’s dangerous, but we’re college students – we need to live a little!”

Spencer Lezin, a freshman, said, “We’ve got secret tunnels? That’s pretty cool. … Could they be renovated? I think it’d be cool if we had a better way to get around campus in the winter.”

Katie Soto, a freshman, said she “did not know about the tunnels until now” and they “intrigue” her.

Isaac Vu, a junior, said he and a friend once entered one of the tunnels through an entrance in the basement of May Hall because “the door to it was open,” and they thought, “It doesn’t hurt to see what’s inside.”

He said they did not stay very long because “it was kind of spooky.”

Steve Furtney, a senior, said, “We want a guided tour” of the tunnels. He asked, “What could they be hiding?”

A view of the underground tunnels. (Gatepost Archives)

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