ASU West tunnel system provides extra security, infrastructure to campus

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Largely unknown to the student population, a tunnel system beneath the West campus connects the major buildings together, providing room for water pipes, data cables and extra security opportunity.

Police Aide Chuck Cornfield said several of the original buildings on the West Campus are in a loop connected by the tunnels. The Fletcher Library, University Center Building, Sands Building, Classroom/Lab/Computer Building, the Faculty Administration Building and the Central Plant are all accessible by the tunnels.

“They were built first in 1984," he said. "The first building (on the West Campus) was Fletcher Library in 1984. The tunnels were put in before that.”

This allows for the central power/water plant to provide chilled water to all the buildings at about 40 degrees and protect the data cables from potential threat.

Cornfield said this not only makes room for facilities to run pipes and data cables to all the necessary areas on campus, but also allows for security benefit.

“The idea, besides making all this stuff available for facilities to get to, is that it’s a safety factor because you have a shooter on the roof, you can evacuate students to safety without exposing them to open ground," he said.

Tom Wienand, supervisor at West's Central Plant, had a different idea of how the tunnel could assist in an emergency.

“If there is an event in one of our buildings, we have the relationship with the (police department) that we can sneak them in through the tunnels and disperse into any building on campus," he said.

Even with such planning for the tunnels, there has actually been little need for them yet.

“There’s no gravel. It’s always clean. We’ve only ever had one incident in students breaking into it,” Weinand said.

Stationary Engineer Ronald Chaffee said students once gained access to the tunnels, but were quickly found.

“(The students) had gone down to the dark end, and they set up some sort of project, but once we found out about it they were removed," he said.

Chaffee also said the tunnel was, flooded nearly five years ago and that caused issues.

“We had the fire lines at Sands break," he said. "We had about a foot and a half of water that was flooded in the Sands basement. It busted through the wall. Busted through the electrical wall. Busted out the 12,000 volt feeder, and then came down the tunnel and flooded the (Central Plant) basement.”

Cornfield, Weinand, and Chaffee all said they remembered the times when Phoenix Police Department would do canine training in the tunnels.

Cornfield said they used to have people hide in the shadows and the dogs would look for them. This stopped when Weinand’s predecessor walked into the tunnels unaware of the training in progress.

“The previous supervisor didn’t realize the Phoenix PD was down there with the dogs," Weinand said. "All he had to do was listen to the officer, but they barked at him, and the dogs haven’t been back since.”

Evidence of past student forays into the tunnels are documented with writing on the dark side of the tunnel. One of the oldest entries dates from September 1987 and simply reads, “PAM & KEN WERE HERE.”

Beyond fond memories however, there are ways the tunnel system could be expanded to provide greater use.

“The new buildings aren’t connected," Cornfield said. "Sun Devil Fitness, (Verde Dining Pavilion), Casa de Oro, and Las Casas. None of these are connected.”

Weinand said this goes against earlier plans to expand the power plant to have a second base on the other side of the tunnels.

“We would have liked to, but it's expensive to build, but then it would pay back in utilities,” he said.

Despite the potential benefits, as of now it looks like the tunnels will be staying the way they are.

“I was told that they weren’t attached because they were cost prohibitive," Cornfield said. "I think they should have been hooked up.”

Reach the reporter rtashbroo@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @rachael_ta

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