‘It was disgusting:’ Butler School aging ungracefully as ceiling tiles come crumbling down

Brooke Vincent

Early Saturday morning, music studies sophomore Pablo Estrada walked into the recital hall of the Butler School of Music to find a pile of broken fiberglass ceiling tiles had fallen near the elevators. Then Estrada took his frustration to social media.

Estrada and his friends shared photos of the rubble on Twitter, voicing their anger about the building they say is falling apart and posing a safety hazard to guests and students who might tour the building. But the ceiling tiles are only a part of the larger issue, Estrada said.

“What was embarrassing (is the tiles fell) and no one came to pick the tile up after we reported it,” Estrada said. “I personally threw it in the trash can. I thought it was disgusting. I think it diminishes the school’s quality. It says that (the administrators) don’t take care of this building.”

A tile hangs from the ceiling of the music building. Jamie Powers | Daily Texan Staff

Insulation for the original, 50-year-old heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is worn down, said director of Facilities Services Dean Hansen. The ceiling tiles fell because of exposed duct work and refrigeration lines, which caused condensation to collect and drip down on the tiles, Hansen said.

Building manager Russell Podgorsek said he sympathizes with student frustrations over the lack of money allocated to the building, but thinks it’s important to recognize the difficulty of getting public funds.

“Best case scenario, knock the place down and rebuild,” Podgorsek said. “We’re talking about an absurd amount of money and shutting down the operations or moving the school. How do you keep a school going when you need a new building? It’s a unbelievable task.”

The building is scheduled to receive a new HVAC system as part of the Replacement and Renewal rogram in the summer of 2019 and 2020. However, Page Stephens, the assistant director of operations, said the problems have arisen from a lack of funding on the state level.

“A ceiling tile falling seems like a small issue, but really it’s connected to this larger web of budgets, staffing, resources and skills,” Stephens said. “For years, the campus has needed more money allocated for maintenance and, honestly, even if the president wanted to spend more money on that, the permission and the funds have to come from the regents.”

The Facilities department, which responds to maintenance requests for all the buildings on campus and its affiliates, has seen a greater rate of employees quitting over the last several years, which affects their ability to work efficiently, Hansen said.

“We have had quite a bit of turnover primarily because we have fallen behind market rates on pay that we’re offering our employees,” Hansen said. “We raised our minimum wage for our entry–level positions from $11 an hour to $13 an hour which makes us more in line and more competitive with other entities.”

Music performance senior Zoe Cagan tweeted Wednesday that student voices had finally been heard when facilities replaced a different set of ceiling tiles which had been missing since the fall. However, Cagan said this issue is far from over.

“If they think it’s just about ceiling tiles, they would be wrong,” Cagan said. “We realize we’re not getting a new school, but at least we could get new couches that aren’t as disgusting, or floors that don’t have stains on them, different light fixtures, anything. The students you claim to want to get out there and change the world, where is that attention initially?”