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Penn State Mythbusters: Building Faults

We’ve all heard stories about certain buildings having faults in them due to design flaws. One states that the IST Building has a crack in it because builders forgot to take the wind into account, another says the Forestry Resources Building has a crack in the floor. Others say that one or both of these buildings is sinking.

Being a Penn State student means getting used to the seemingly incessant construction going on around campus. It’s become a fact of life. But if the university can afford to renovate so many buildings around campus, why don’t they take some time and cash to focus on those that are cracked or sinking?

A short talk with OPP spokesman Paul Ruskin helped shed some light on the matter.

First of all, the IST Building does not have any major cracks or structural damage to it that Ruskin is aware of.

“The building is built, structurally, to flex because it is a bridge,” he said. “And it is not sinking, it is properly flexing as per design.”

He added that he would not be surprised if there were a minor crack in it as a natural consequence of its flexibility.

The stories you may have heard about the giant crack in the floor of Forestry Resources, however, are true. Apparently the gravel used as fill material under the building contained a contaminant that expands when introduced to water. Shortly after the building was constructed, the expanding gravel pushed up on the base of the floor causing a large crack to form.

The contaminant in the shale gravel was pyrite, according to this StateCollege.com article from last year. However, the damage is to the floor slabs only and is not a danger, and “the contractors are working to correct this problem,” Ruskin said.

As for the rumors that the building is sinking, those are false.

Speaking of sinking, though, Ruskin did point out that sinkholes are a common phenomenon around campus. Though they are usually quite small and easily filled, very large ones do occassionally crop up. One that appeared by the north end of Beaver Stadium, near the OPP building, was about 40-50 feet across, Ruskin said.

“It actually filled with rainwater, and now I’m the only person I know who has kayaked across a sinkhole,” he added.

It has since been bulldozed over and completely covered. The reason for these sinkholes is the Karst topography Penn State is situated on: a situation in which the ground contains a lot of limestone rock, which dissolves easily in slightly acidic water.

“Basically, Penn State is on rock that looks like swiss cheese,” Ruskin explained. This may be the root of constant rumors of buildings sinking.

One other famous (and false) building myth is that Hammond was supposed to be a tower, but due to shortsighted engineering was instead built sideways. You can learn a little more about that and a few other popular campus myths here.

If you know of any other campus myths you’d like to see proven or debunked, let us know in the comments below.

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About the Author

Matthew D'Ippolito

I'm a senior majoring in print journalism with minors in political science and music technology. I'm from the small town of Pennsburg, about an hour north of Philly. I hope to one day work as a music reporter for Rolling Stone. I am single and looking to mingle.

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