Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Breaking: PCCD appoints former San Leandro police chief to Interim Executive Director of Public Safety
Breaking: PCCD appoints former San Leandro police chief to Interim Executive Director of Public Safety
Abdul Pridgen will lead the district’s community-based safety program
Li Khan, Editor in Chief • June 21, 2024
Carpentry instructor spruces up department
Carpentry instructor spruces up department
Rym-Maya Kherbache, Staff Writer • April 24, 2024
A cap at the Laney College commencement ceremony on May 24 reads in Spanish, This is for my mom who gave me everything. (Photo: Marcus Creel/PCCD)
Graduations, resignations and more: PCCD Trustees wrap up school year at 5/28 meeting
Romi Bales, Staff Writer • June 17, 2024
Student Trustee Natasha Masand believes her voice has the power to impact the PCCD community.
Student Trustee Natasha Masand finds her voice
Isabelly Sabô Barbosa, Social Media Editor • March 19, 2024

    Rodent ‘sets off’ electrical failure

    Trustees take quick action, hire firm to effect ‘emergency electrical repairs’
    The melted three-phase switch that powers the Student Center and the F building was compromised when a rodent touched two poles and caused a 1200 volt ‘arc flash’ that compromised the power distribution to the buildings on March 28, causing students, faculty and personnel to evacuate.

    In an emergency meeting on April 15, the Peralta Board of Trustees unanimously approved a $220,108 contract for Rosendin Electrics to effect “emergency electrical repairs” to the Laney College Student Center and F building, after a contained electrical fire erupted in a small room housing electrical infrastructure on March 28, shortly after 6:30 p.m.

    The incident occurred when a rodent touched two parts of a “three-phase switch,” which caused a 1,200-volt “arc flash” that instantly incinerated the rodent, melted the parts of the transformer and cut power to the buildings, Laney President Tammeil Gilkerson announced in an email to Peralta faculty and staff on April 12.

    Three poles of the three-phase switch were crossed by a rodent, which was incinerated and fell to the ground directly below. The 1,200 volt spark caused a loud popping sound that witnesses likened to a car backfiring, although no evidence of outward force from an explosion was detected, according to Laney President Tammeil Gilkerson.

    The high temperature of the flash melted the wires causing “a lot of smoke and smoldering,” although there were “no visible flames” and “no evidence of an explosion,” despite the loud noise heard throughout the building, Gilkerson said.

    The Oakland Fire Department was the first on the scene, followed by the Alameda County Sheriff’s office and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) personnel.

    As a safety measure, PG&E powered down the electricity to the entire campus, according to spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian.

    Power was restored in time for Saturday classes on March 30, but the Student Center and the F building will remain without electricity until Rosendin Electrics is able to replace the switch gear and the distribution breakers.

    A blackened electrical panel which covered the damaged distribution breaker rests against the electrical hub inside the room located in the breezway between the F building and the Student Center. Many Laney College classes were relocated and various services were affected by the electrical failure which occurred on March 28.

    Laney Student Government President Dagnachew Sihbat was on the fourth floor of the Student Center on the day of the outage. He heard a loud bang, the electricity went out and the fire alarm sounded, he said.

    Sihbat and another student immediately began to evacuate the third and fourth floors, while cafeteria Food Service Manager Neil Burmenko cleared the first and second floors with the help of Laney custodians and security personnel.

    Upon exiting the building, Sihbat saw thick smoke rising through the breezeway at the rear of the Student Center. That’s when he noticed that the power was out in the adjacent F building, although unlike in the Student Center, no alarms had sounded.

    Aided by Burmenko, Sihbat led the effort to clear the F building next.

    “We went into the rooms, and the students were just sitting there in the dark,” he said.

    Following the incident, a text message alerted students and faculty that “a loss of power” had caused an early closure of the campus, and warned that the campus would remain closed through Friday.

    Gilkerson detailed the incident at the April 9 Board of Trustees meeting, and said that Laney’s engineers remained on campus throughout the night to consider all possible solutions.

    “Over 28 electrical companies [were called] that would not respond or come out for particular reasons,” she said.

    Rosendin Electrics agreed to take on the project, but the repairs could take several weeks because the 50-year-old replacement parts are difficult to obtain. Administrators hope that repairs will be completed by May 15.

    As for the F building’s alarm systems, Amy Marshall, Laney’s director of facilities, said that they had not yet been fully repaired since the campus was placed on Fire Watch on Jan. 22 following a failed inspection by the Oakland Fire Department earlier that month.

    Contracting company Simplex Grinnell began repairs in February, and The Oakland Fire Department returned for an inspection April 15–17 to evaluate the alarm systems in order to remove the campus from Fire Watch.

    Following the incident in the Student Center, all activities on campus ceased, effectively cancelling the final production of the Laney Theatre Department’s play “We Are Pussy Riot or Everything Is P.R.”

    In the meantime, student services have been relocated to various locations (see page 7 for a detailed list).

    Rodent intrusion in electrical panels is fairly common, said Marshall, and the district is working to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

    “I think Laney sometimes gets a bad rap, and I know that there are things that are lacking, but it’s not lacking in effort or will or love for the place,” Marshall said.

    Elected members of the ASLC have been attending recent facilities meetings to emphasize the need for better infrastructure at Laney, notably the need to prioritize the building of a new Student Center.

    To Sibhat, the incident was indicative of the underlying problems of campus facilities.

    Plans were issued to replace the Student Center in the 2017 Facilities Master Plan, but the construction of a new library and a new Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (S.T.E.A.M.) center are first in line.

    Such sights as protruding wires and broken elevators are common on campus and in the Student Center, and the incident was hardly surprising considering the current state of the Student Center, Sibhat said.

    To some, the April 9 board meeting was a culmination of the concerns held by students and faculty district-wide.

    “Laney wasn’t prepared to handle this kind of incident,” Sihbat said at the meeting. “I hate to say it, but we kind of told you so.”

    Students from the Laney Theater Arts Department also gathered at the Board meeting to lament the loss of the performance that they had worked so hard for.

    “It is disheartening to see the state of disrepair that the buildings appear to be in,” said Sadie Barreto, who added that the theater department has faced issues with flooding and broken sinks since Spring 2018.

    Associated Students of Merritt College Student President Ya’Mese Johnson has expressed her concerns about the state of facilities and ADA compliancy at prior board meetings, and in an impassioned speech she urged board members to be attentive to the voices of students and faculty.

    “At the end of the day, there are some people here who are not putting in the effort, and there are some people who are putting in overwhelming effort, working 20-hour days to make sure we get what we need,” she said.

    However, not everyone feels the same about the incident. Burmenko, who has managed restaurants for many years and joined the Laney team in Spring 2018, said that the fire drill, just a week prior to the incident, helped him to feel prepared and handle the situation.

    “These things happen. Things break down, things get old, and we deal with it,” Burmenko said.

    About the Contributor
    Saskia Hatvany
    Saskia Hatvany, Co-Editor
    Saskia was born in Oakland with her little brother, to an American mother and a British father. Currently Saskia is applying for transfer and works as a freelance journalist, photographer, writer and graphic designer for California news outlets, non-profits, and local businesses in the greater Bay Area. She hopes to graduate in 2021.
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