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Penn State’s Campus Beneath the Campus

Almost everybody at Penn State has heard the urban legend, and with temperatures so cold that leaving our dorms is near impossible, it’s been on our minds more than usual — the alleged Penn State tunnel system.

Legend has it that many moons ago, our campus was warmed by a system of underground steam tunnels that connected to every building. According to OPP, of the 914 buildings on campus, most are warmed by these vents. However, rumors have circulated over the years stating that the vents are also the warmest way to get to class — that is, if you can find them. So, how much truth is there to this tale? Why haven’t we all been crawling through tunnels to class everyday?

The website shanetully.com/psu_steam provides steam tunnel evidence via photos and videos. According to their map, a tunnel system connecting every building in the freshman slums (aka East) has been visited and confirmed. The only other confirmed tunnel connects academic buildings spanning from Burrowes to Shortlidge. Another such system is speculated to lie beneath the Pollock dorms.

One group can be thanked for the extensive tunnel map. They refer to themselves as the Urban Explorers, and in a series of website entries similar to something out of a Harry Potter novel, they detail their adventures through the underground system. The group often entered the steam tunnels through street grates, and claim they connect to the HUB and other buildings through maintenance rooms. They describe the tunnels as five by six feet of concrete walls stretching for over four miles. According to their descriptions, the paths are sweltry and generally unpleasant. A few times they even laugh about their exposure to asbestos. I assume that in present day, they’re no longer laughing about that one…

In 2000, the posts ceased. When I asked Paul Ruskin of OPP about this, he explained to me that once the school became aware of the Urban Explorer’s existence, security for the tunnels was increased exponentially. While he cannot verify what security measures are in place, he is insistent that students do not attempt to further explore the steam vents. In fact, entering the vents is considered breaking and entering and is completely illegal.

More importantly, Ruskin insists, it’s not even worth it. Ruskin said that there is nothing down there worth seeing. Students who dare enter the Penn State underworld will simply dirty their clothes and risk hurting themselves.

So, I hate to be the one to say it, but it looks like we’re just going to have to get to class the old-fashioned way. I resent the feeling of subarctic air chapping my porcelain skin as much as the next guy, but I also value my safety. While that’s a total bummer, at least we know that the tunnels do in fact exist. And we can thank them for one very special thing — though most people believe Penn State has heated sidewalks, it’s actually the heat from the tunnels that melts the snow.

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