FLATBUSH – After putting staff members through hazardous conditions, 54 years after it opened, Brooklyn College’s beloved Television Center was forced to “temporarily” shut down at the end of this summer for what looks like 7 years of renovations.
“We helped the students by teaching them and certifying them in both field and studio equipment. We created handbooks and comprehensive policies,” a faculty member who wanted to remain anonymous because they’re ‘subject to retaliation’ said. “We have done everything we can to improve this facility. Unfortunately, the one thing we couldn’t do was hold the walls up. And it proved to be our death.”
This is not the first time a long-time facility at Brooklyn College has shut down– though this one, we are told, is only temporary. Last September, we learned that the College shut down Brooklyn Center For Performing Arts at Brooklyn College (BCBC) and laid-off its entire staff.
On a weekday last December, the temperature outside was cold – 35 degrees, in sharp contrast with the hellish 80F inside the basement of the TV Center (BCTV). It was hot and stuffy because no air was coming in. I was only down there for 20 minutes and could no longer stand it. The faculty had to work down there for two months until someone finally listened.
Brooklyn College’s TV Center is located in the basement of Whitehead Hall. It serves over 200 students a semester and provides them with an experience students most likely cannot receive anywhere else. It’s a full production facility equipped with a multi-camera studio and a post-production lab. The popular Studio B includes a 14-foot lighting grid, ETC lighting control/dimming system for more than 100 instruments, full black travelers, two projection cycs, and a green screen.
The Center has been shut down since August 1, 2018. Like many of the other buildings on the Brooklyn College campus, its infrastructure was crumbling. Back in May of last year, it got really bad when the main air conditioner for the studio blew.
“That’s sort of where it hits the crisis point. We were in the middle of finals, literally getting ready for our last live broadcast when smoke started blowing into the studio and we were forced to evacuate,” the staff member said. “We used to use that AC in the past because it was so powerful. People would always say how cold it was.”
Since the TV Center was in the basement, there were no windows. When classes were running, the rooms would be left open and the cool air from the AC would come into the hallway. As the days went by, faculty members started to watch the temperature climb. Sometimes even going as high as 95 degrees.
According to a Brooklyn College spokesperson, the TV Center was temporarily closed because of a “water condensation issue in the ceiling above the light grid.”
“During times of high temperature and humidity, condensation would form on the outside of air ducts and drip down,” the statement from the College read. “The water dripping posed a potential hazard due to the lighting and electrical grid in the ceiling. During non-summer months when there is moderate weather the condensation issue is not present.”
Luckily for them, students were no longer in session during the “water condensation issue.” But, staff members still had to work over the summer.
“You have to picture it. There is no outside air,” the staff member said. “It’s like being on a subway platform for a long time without any outside air.”
The hot basement was very damaging, not only for the people but also for the equipment, that needs to be in space with temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees.
“It’s very easy to damage the internal components. We have no idea of the extent of the damage to the equipment that’s been sustained,” the staff member said. “Every day and every month the equipment stays there in these conditions, the less likely it is that it will function properly when the work is finished.”
The staff members have been told that it will take five to seven years for the College to fully repair the basement.
“In five to seven years, the equipment will be obsolete anyway. Technology does not wait for us.”
The five staff members of the TV Center desperately needed to get out of the basement and find another room for their Center before classes opened in the Fall. So, they reached out to the College administration.
“We had to report to work every day despite the fact that we kept saying we need help, we need repairs. Someone save us,” the staff member said. “we have people that have been on this staff for longer than 30 years. Nobody on the staff has ever had a complaint leveled against them. We’ve shown up every day to do our jobs; we’re completely capable of doing our jobs.”
Transferring to Another Room
What staff members wanted was to transfer to another facility on campus. But they could not do that without the approval of the College. They were emailing every possible person they could think of but were not getting any solutions. How hard is it for the College to find another room on campus right away?
“We reported it to the entire chain of command in this college, all the way up to the president and back,” the staff member said. “This is their area and they hold the line share of responsibility for knowing this crisis was going to happen, doing nothing to prevent it, and then failing to properly manage it once we were in unsafe and unhealthy conditions.”
On July 3, the Facilities department at Brooklyn College finally visited the basement. Yet, it took until August to move the faculty out. In this email provided to Bklyner, an assessment of the visit is detailed. In the email, Fran Fitzgerald, the assistant vice president of Facilities, writes, “The temperatures in all spaces visited were found to be above the OSHA maximum recommended temperature of 78 degrees Fahrenheit.”
According to the staff member, it wasn’t only the lack of ventilation that was the problem. It was damp, there was a lot of mold, and there were constant leaks. It got so bad, that staff members were getting sick (respiratory infections, bacterial infections, and sinus infections). Once they realized the College wasn’t doing anything, they reached out to the Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau (PESH).
“Once the inspectors came, it was ‘hurry up and move, we have to get you out of here’ from the College,” the staff member said. “We reached out to PESH because classes were about to begin and we were not going to open in these conditions. It was not safe for students.”
The College administration says something different. In a statement, they noted that the administration was very responsive.
“The College administration has been responsive to the concerns expressed by TV center staff, and with the assistance of staff from Facilities and Environmental Health and Safety, the administration has made both short-term and long-term efforts to address the concerns,” the statement read. “When it became apparent that the current space has issues that could not be resolved in a timely manner, the administration provided the staff with alternative space for their work.”
A Space That Was Never Offered
The five staff members of the TV Center were removed from the basement and taken to the fourth floor of Whitehead Hall. They were given two rooms right across from each other where they sat and waited for a few months.
“That’s the point where things here went into high gear. The staff started being treated as the enemy – as if we had caused this. As if our bringing attention to this was now the wrong thing to do, and that since then we have been made to pay for it.”
According to the staff member, besides losing the entire facility, their millions of dollars worth of equipment was taken away. In fact, much of the equipment was given to another department, TV and Radio, where it is now being used by other faculty members and students in a facility in another building on campus, the basement of Boylan Hall. The old TV Center staff? They were never asked or given the option to join.
The staff member tells us that the TV Center staff was shown that very space in Boylan Hall and were asked if it was suitable for their operations, to which the staff replied yes. The next morning, the TV Center staff found out that the Boylan Hall space was being given to the TV and Radio department and not them. When they asked for an explanation, the staff member said they were given none.
“The only thing being made clear to us right now is that the TV and Radio department is going to replicate our operation and run it themselves and not with us,” the staff member said. “They currently have students and faculty working our jobs in a space that was never offered to us. A space that we kept asking for. It’s clear we’re being cut out of the academic picture.”
The TV Center and the TV and Radio department are two different entities.
“We provide something that the department does not. A technical staff, a production space, and management equipment,” the staff member said. “Students have lost a great facility, they no longer have a specialized space to work in. And they lost technical expertise.”
According to George Rodman, a professor at the TV and Radio department, the College did what it could by transporting the equipment to TV and Radio.
“I feel terrible about the Center closing. But I feel that Brooklyn College did the best they could do for our students with a bad situation,” he said. “Television programming is exploding on dozens of different platforms. We have to keep doing the best we can to help our students prepare for the future of this industry!”
The College agrees.
“Originally, the TV Center was to distribute equipment from the 4th floor of Whitehead; unfortunately, the space was too small to handle the needs of the Television and Radio faculty,” the statement from the College read. “The College then identified the basement of Boylan as a temporary distribution center. The equipment has now been moved to the Library where the TV Center staff now work, and distribution will take place from there going forward.”
Moved to the Library
The five staff members are now a part of the Library Media Center. According to a Brooklyn College spokesperson, the members have “met with their supervisor in the Library Academic Instructional Technology (AIT) unit and they know what their responsibilities are. They will remain under the supervision of AIT, so the library can properly oversee the equipment and supervise the staff. The primary function will remain the same: serve the needs of the academic curriculum of the TV/Radio Department and the needs of the College.”
But moving the staff to the library to help with equipment distribution does not solve the problem.
“This just further alienates the staff from the students, our colleagues in the arts and our community,” the staff member said.
It Will Re-Open Despite Broken Facilities
The studio control rooms and the machine room of the TV Center were supposed to have completed their renovations in 2014. It is 2019 and according to the College, those rooms “are currently undergoing additional enhancements.”
Renovations that were supposed to be completed by 2014 have not been completed yet. But now, more renovations must be added to fix the currently broken infrastructure. According to the College, that requires state capital funding from the legislature.
“The College reached out to CUNY Central for support on this issue and as a result, additional renovations of the older areas and systems are slated for updates within the next two to five years,” the College said.
But still, the College believes the TV Center will re-open Spring of 2019.
“However, there are portions of the Studio B complex which will be offline until repairs and upgrades can be completed mid-March,” the College said. “The Library management intends to utilize the studio in the meantime using remote video and control equipment until the power is restored to the main control rooms.”
Brooklyn College’s Infrastructure
It all sounds very simple, but it is not. Take a look at our report from last May. Toilets, ceilings, elevators, and sinks are constantly breaking. It has gotten so bad, that there is an Instagram page named “CUNY_Brokelyn_College” where students send in photos.
How will the College repair the TV Center on time, when other parts of the campus are also crumbling?
The TV Center’s Future
Staying in the library is not enough for the staff members.
“What we want is to get back to what we do, which is supposed to be assisting student productions and being the professional technical staff that we were hired to be,” the staff member said.
The staff feel as if they are being punished. “What did we do wrong?”
“All we did was speak up for ourselves and our health and say these are horrible working conditions nobody should be subjected to,” the staff member said. “And I feel like we’re being retaliated for it.”
According to the statement from the university, “The College relies on staff members to communicate their concerns and has a procedure in place for reporting building conditions and health and safety hazards.”
The staff member believes the biggest loss was the students.
“One of our favorite aspects of our job is working with our cohort of students; young people trying to get into the field,” the staff member said. “We’re a mix of upset, angry, and frustrated that we cannot do our jobs. We’re here. We want to work. We want to teach.”
The staff member also believes no one is going to change the fate of the TV Center.
“After 54 years of a successful operation, a facility doesn’t just shut down,” they said. “I am afraid as with BCBC that the community is unaware of the vital resources that are being allowed to be quietly shuttered and the many ripple effects this will have not the least on the staff who continue to risk their continued employment and well-being.”
“This was a community we spent years building. It’s so hard to fathom what’s happening right now and process it.”
UPDATED: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the employees of Brooklyn College’s Television Center are not “faculty” but “staff”, according to Brooklyn College.