Mold, light leaks and flooding are just a few of the problems photography students say are present in the dark rooms, and administrators said it is due to a lack of funding from the state.
“Part of Project 208, interestingly enough, is related to building facility issues because in the state of Alabama, we do not have maintenance as an extra line item that is funded for universities,” said Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Carmen Burkhalter.
She said the cost of building a new facility would be cheaper than renovating a new one, but does not know the exact plan on creating a new or updated space for the dark rooms.
“We thought the original renovation was going to be about a quarter of a million dollars for the darkrooms but it’s going to be closer to half a million dollars,” Burkhalter said.
She said the original plan was to move the dark rooms out of the communications building completely because it is an art related area.
“Not knowing exactly what the footprint is on the new darkroom that would come up, I can’t tell you 100 percent sure,” Burkhalter said. “I think the plan still is to turn all of the communications building over to communications.”
Butler Cain, chair of the communication department said it is possible student media could move to the communications building in place of the dark rooms in the future.
Burkhalter said it is too soon to tell if student media would move to the communications building.
Administration has engaged Credo to work on the campus master plan. Credo is a campus master planning company that work with universities across the country.
“Sometimes when a campus does a master plan, you think you’ll reuse some space and then they bring in experts that say it’s cheaper to build something completely new,” Burkhalter said.
She said she believes student media should be renovated if it stays in its current building.
“One of two things has to happen,” Burkhalter said. “We either need to renovate and build something that student media can build into or the student’s current space for student media needs to be renovated.”
Project 208 is not the only program the campus is working with to make sure the facilities stay up to date and in good condition. The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits the art department. Burkhalter said the condition of the dark rooms has been a concern to them.
Burkhalter said because it is an older building, the state requires approval for renderings to make sure the university is meeting all the most modern construction criteria. When an older space is renovated, it still has to meet certain modern construction specifications, and at that point, it can go out for bid.
“The university has the money for renovations and has the money for architecture,” she said. We’re just going through the process of getting the approval on a state level for the architectural renderings.”
Burkhalter said reaccreditation during the active period takes a year to a year and a half from the time the site team visit comes to the report and then they come to the decision of whether or not the university is reaccredited.
UNA has been reaccreditied, but it is based on the promise it made to set aside $500,000 to renovate a different space or build a different dark rooms or dark room areas.
“When the original site team came, obviously they expressed some concerns about (the dark rooms),” Burkhalter said. “Then they give you a list of things they want you to be sure that you’re doing properly, and then you have to send documentation into them.”
She said the university has a certain amount of time to follow through on its promises and if it does not, NASAD will say the department will no longer be accredited.
“We feel confident we will be able to meet those accountability guidelines and time lines from the accreditors,” she said.
Despite the lack of funding and accreditation process, students still have concerns about the facilities they are supposed to be using.
“It was flooding a year ago, and probably before I even came to UNA. Tiles in the ceiling will hold so much water to the point they cave in and water gets all over our enlargers,” said sophomore Art Major Meg Werner. “Now it’s to the point we don’t even keep some tiles in, which then leads to light leaks inside the rooms which causes potential light to hit your film or paper during light sensitive developing processes.”
Burkhalter said she was told this is the first time in recent history the dark rooms have actually flooded.
“(Photography professors) have not made curricular modifications yet because they are assessing as to whether this was a one time fluke craziness because of all the rain or if this is a new facilities issue,” Burkhalter said.
Werner said access to the rooms is not fair to students.
“When I was in Photo I, one professor would have to change the curriculum to fit the access we had because there’s no time to do what all is needed considering it is only open three hours a day, four days a week,” she said. “It can take three hours just to make one print. Imagine the time you need to make 10 to 15 prints.”
She said giving students 24 hour access to the darkrooms would allow them to work all night.
“Many students work too, so these hours don’t fit our schedule,” Werner said. “It’s 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., which are typical work hours for students, I would assume.”
Werner said out of the ten dark rooms, nine have water leaking inside. She said the dark room office has mold on the ceiling and she thinks there is not proper ventilation inside.
“I have heard that for years now UNA has been sending the people in control of their accreditation a list of tasks they are going to fulfill, but they never do,” Werner said. “If I have seen this many issues in the year I’ve been here, I can only imagine what the art administrators have dealt with for years.”
Michael Gautney, assistant vice president of facilities administration and planning,, said four of the nine dark rooms located in the communications building experienced water damage caused by a roof leak.
“There is a portion of the East roof that has an internal drain that became clogged causing the water to pool up on the roof and eventually drained into the dark rooms below,” he said.
Gautney said once facilities became informed of the situation, the drain was cleared.
“Additional measures are being planned to remedy this situation as soon as weather permits, including removing the roofing in this area to install additional ice and water shield membrane under the roof, as well as improved flashing,” he said.
Gautney said damages to the dark rooms include ceiling tiles and sheet rock walls that have water damage. The areas where the damage occurred will be dried, cleaned and repaired over the next few days.
Werner said a lot of the equipment students have are not the best.
“A lot of our enlargers are janky and our photo easels are old and worn down” Werner said. “Some photo easels are to the point where the measurements are off.”
Burkhalter said she knows the department chair in art is working to try to replace ceiling tiles and get temporary patches until the new space is built.
The Flor-Ala staff photographer and Fine Arts major, Dylan Baker, said the photo studio is another photography-related room on campus with poor conditions.
“There is also a leak when it rains a lot that drips down the wall onto an electrical outlet,” Baker said.
She said when the university is waiting to invest half a million dollars into a space, and hope it will happen quickly, they do not want to turn around and invest a lot of money into the old space.
“If I’ve got $500,000 sitting over here for a new space, I don’t wanna advise them to invest $100,00 or even $50,000 in a space that’s not going to be relevant in six months,” she said.
She said at this point, it is just a waiting game and students have no reason to be enthusiastic or positive about it.
“The good news is, maybe this group of students will not benefit tremendously on the photography side, but the next group of students will benefit tremendously,” Burkhalter said.
Burkhalter said she thinks students are doing the best they can by reporting these issues to people who can ask questions.
There is a reporting mechanism on campus Gautney takes and works with President Kenneth Kitts to develop a separate, comprehensive report they use to send to Montgomery.
“All information concerning facilities matters are reported to the president through Vice President of business and financial affairs, Evan Thornton,” Gautney said. “Given Project 208 is a multifaced initiative focused on the long standing funding inadequacies between state universities, this discussion is much more than a lack of funding for upkeep of facilities.”
Gautney said lack of funding has resulted in inadequate funds to maintain the aging campus facilities.