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Dark and damp

September 29, 2023

Have you ever been walking home from a late night in H-L in the rain, staring ahead with squinted eyes to navigate the dark path before you, only to feel your foot splash into a few-inch puddle, dousing the cuffs of your pants and your pride?

I’ve faced this scenario many times, leading me to the second group of burning questions I wanted to answer: why are the lights so dim on campus, and why are the storm drains so ineffective? Another question could be asked: “Is the writer of this column oddly obsessed with these topics?” The answer to that question would be yes. Yes, she is.

Starting with lighting, I went directly to the source: the Facilities office. I got the scoop on the rationale behind the types of light fixtures around campus from Associate Vice President for Facilities & Capital Projects Jeff Tuttle.

“We try to strike a balance between having enough light so a person does not trip over obstacles that may be present and feels safe in the environment, and the lighting being glaring and industrial-looking for occupants in nearby buildings or our campus neighbors,” Tuttle wrote back to me.

To help strike this balance between safety and aesthetics, Facilities and Security do a walkthrough of campus periodically to find places that need improved illumination. When I first took on this question, I thought there might be town or state ordinances about exterior illumination for light pollution or nuisance reasons, so I had to dig further.

I scoured the town ordinances only to be sadly mistaken about my presumption that there were restrictions on exterior lighting imposed by the town. Instead, the College has control of the—what I would consider—dim lighting. It seems that those who agree that the campus sits in the shadows should email Facilities or Security about any too dark spots on campus.

Moving to drainage, Facilities provided some information about drainage maintenance and how it aims to counteract some of the drainage problems throughout campus. They contract a specialized truck to maintain the stormwater drains by sucking out any leaves and debris prior to larger forecasted rain events.

Despite these efforts, there are still areas of campus that become overwhelmed with water during rain storms, which Tuttle says Facilities tries to address to the best of its ability. One barrier to drainage system improvements is that the town must approve any new connections to the storm drainage system.

The Brunswick town ordinances detail these restrictions on the stormwater maintenance system in Article IV Section 16. The goal of this law is to control the pressure on the town’s drainage system. This means that the Brunswick Public Works Department has to approve any additional proposed drainage ports, creating more bureaucratic hoops to jump through.

However, suppose you’ve seen the pools that often form behind the Bowdoin Organic Garden (BOG) and in front of Coles Tower that eventually freeze over as the temperature drops. In that case, you know that our pressing drainage problem might not be solved by just a few more drains across campus.

Bowdoin’s campus sits on a very flat area of land, with a mere few feet of elevation change across the main campus area. A subsequent question could be asked: is the part of the BOG behind Osher and West Halls located there to take advantage of this pooling water? Maybe this is a question for a different week ….

Nonetheless, gardens are an effective way to counteract standing water on pervious surfaces and offer an alternative to offcial stormwater drainage that does not require town approval. Another option may be rainwater collectors—specifically in densely pooling areas—to use in the BOG and other spaces on campus that could use rainwater.

I do not claim to be an expert on drainage, but I am an expert puddle and pool stomper, and I would love to walk home with dry socks.


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  1. James says:

    why don’t you wear boots?

  2. Frequent Quad Walker '24 says:

    An interesting article with a compelling call to action. I offer, though, a simple remedy in the meantime: have you considered looking where you are going? I’ve found great success with this alternative, daring solution.

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