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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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    Staller Center Plagued By Flooding

    Longstanding problems with the Fine Arts Building on Stony Brook University’s campus have caused serious damage to musical instruments and equipment over the years. Most recently damaged were a 1928 American Grand Knobe belonging to full-time piano technician Thomas Malenich that he had brought in for minor repairs, tools Malenich used to rebuild and refurbish pianos, and three upright pianos that belong to the school. On the morning of Sept. 24, Malenich walked through his basement office and into his connecting workshop, only to discover yet another leak had occurred. He said the ceiling tiles were soaked and water was dripping on the tools, damaging a table saw, a jointer, a band saw, a shaper and a belt sander. This was the second time that Malenich’s piano has sustained water damage while at the university. He said he had hoped the damage was mostly aesthetic, but the pin block was rusted and he might have to replace the resting center section. ‘I’m trying to save it,’ Malenich said. Leaks are not the only problem in the Fine Arts Building. The four-story structure, which houses classrooms, rehearsal halls, offices and instruments, is also plagued with poor ventilation and a frequently broken elevator. ‘Oh, this building is sick,’ said Peter Winkler, a professor and director of graduate studies in composition, theory and popular music. He said the university has spent a lot of money on the ventilation system because of poor circulation. ‘I’ve watched my students fall asleep in the classes,’ Winkler said. Winkler also said the freight elevator breaks down frequently and isn’t scheduled to be fixed until September 2008. Daniel Weymouth, the chairman of the music department, said the reason for the delay is because the elevator in the art department of the Staller Center, which is adjacent to the Fine Arts Building, doesn’t work at all and is due to be fixed first. Malenich said he has complained for the past nine years of rain leaking into his office once or twice a year. Mold and mildew are visible on the ceiling tiles and the floor boards. He said the room, which is often filled with tools and pianos, is constantly damp and humid. ‘I’m working in it,’ Malenich said. ‘All these valuables are in it.’ Pianos are wooden instruments, and wood is extremely sensitive to humidity changes. It shrinks when the air is dry and expands when the air is humid. Changes in atmospheric humidity are the real culprits for putting a well-tuned piano out of tune. Some faculty members agree with Malenich and his reasons for complaining about the continuously bad conditions of his workshop. ‘His room is the worst,’ said Martha Zadok, the assistant to the chairman of the music department. ‘It’s been going on for, like, 10 years.’ And it is because of this extended period that Malenich recently saw a pulmonary doctor for breathing problems. ‘I’m going to call Environmental Safety,’ Malenich said. ‘I’ve been living in here for many, many years.’ The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States Department of Labor did not return any calls. Gary Kaczmarczyk, director of environmental and safety for the university, canceled the initial interview regarding this matter and after many attempts to contact him, has since been unavailable. Zadok has noticed the recent change in Malenich’s appearance and personality. She said he is normally a happy and contented fellow. ‘He used to look so alive,’ Zadok said. ‘I can see it in his face. He’s been sick,’ Terence Harrigan, the university’s executive director of facilities and services, said, ‘You can call it a workshop, but it’s a storage room.’ He said it was not meant for a person to work in that room for an extended period. Another change that Zadok mentioned is that Malenich has recently been working out of his car whenever any small piano parts needed to be fixed, simply to avoid spending any unnecessary time in these poor conditions. Malenich said that the university’s maintenance workers had repaired the foundation in his basement workshop last summer. But after checking the water pipes, the heating units and the sewer system, the origin of the leak was still a mystery. He said they told him this last leak was from the sprinkler system. Zadok said the university hired outside contractors who installed cameras into the conduits between the walls to search for leaks, but they couldn’t locate the exact spot either. Harrigan said he could not confirm any previous work done to Malenich’s office because he has only been employed by Stony Brook University for less than a year, although his boss, Vice President of Facilities and Services Barbara Chernow said he has worked for the university for almost two years. Harrigan said work was done to the north side of the east wall of the Fine Arts Building last summer. A clay-like solution called Bentagroet was injected into the ground in approximately nine locations as an alternative to digging 30 feet to the building’s foundation for repairs. This solution will bond with the foundation wall and, it is hoped, will prevent further leaks, Harrigan said. The same process is now being done for the south side of the east wall. This is where Malenich’s office and workshop are located. ‘Initially, it was designed with flaws,’ Chernow said about the Fine Arts Building. She confirmed that her department is in the process of waterproofing the foundation on the building. She added that clients and tenants have to understand that placing expensive instruments and tools in a basement of any building wasn’t a good idea. Chernow said that people who owned a nice, expensive big-screen plasma television they wouldn’t keep it in a basement. She also said she could become ‘sensitive’ if it is implied that she isn’t handling the situation properly. In the meantime, Malenich is waiting for a response to the estimate he submitted to Weymouth for $10,000 for new tools and $60,000 for three new upright pianos. The ones damaged were bought in 1978 for more than $4,000 each. Today, these Mason and Hamlin brand pianos cost nearly $20,000 new, Malenich said. The estimate does not include a replacement piano for Malenich’s 1928 American Grand Knobe. Zadok said it would cost $12,000 just to rebuild Malenich’s piano. ‘The important thing to remember here is that it’s no one’s fault,’ Weymouth said. And when asked where the finances would come from to replace the pianos and tools, he said, ‘That’s a good question. I don’t have an answer.’ Weymouth said Malenich should probably forget about the receiving a replacement piano. The university is considered self-insured, which Winkler said,’Self-insured is short for not insured,’ Winkler said. This was confirmed by a customer representative for the Insurance Institute of America. Said he, ‘That means they cover their own loss, or risks, as we say in the insurance business.’ Recently, there was at least some good news for Malenich. His office was moved to room 1345 on the first floor of the Fine Arts Building on Nov. 12. His basement office will now become the new workshop, which has not leaked in the past, and the old piano shop is off limits, said Zadok. Phil Salathe is one of four doctoral students whom Zadok had to move from room 1345 to room 1311. He said he understood why the switch needed to be done and it did not upset him. ‘We’re all pretty chill about it,’ Salathe said. Traditionally, music students are assigned to practice and study in the basement as freshmen and each year they are reassigned to the next floor. The three students who were moved from room 1311 to room 0065, which is in the basement but not Malenich’s old workshop, find themselves back to square one. ‘They’re not happy,’ Zadok said. The students were not available to comment.

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