Carman’s potential: firefighter training

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Luke Taylor, Editor-in-Chief

Carman Hall was closed nine years ago as ongoing costs became too great in the face of decreased enrollment. Since then, rumors have flown surrounding one question: What will Eastern do with that building?

Currently, Carman is full of chairs and other dorm furniture, for the most part, and stands slightly separate from the rest of campus.

Occasionally, the parking lot will fill with firetrucks and resident assistants in training who get hands-on experience in clearing a residence hall floor when fire alarms are triggered.

The rest of the year, Carman is surprisingly quiet, almost looking abandoned despite nearby apartments, as well as Greek Court and University Court.

This isn’t an invitation for anyone to vandalize or otherwise “mess with” the building, assures housing and dining director Mark Hudson.

Carman has been equipped with internal and external cameras and other security systems to watch it while slightly out of sight from the other buildings.

“It’s still a safe asset that we have to protect,” Hudson said.

Back to that question, though: will Carman continue as a glorified storage facility or will more uses be found?

Hudson says that the university may be looking to expand on the existing function of fire safety training in the building.

Resident assistants are trained on evacuation through smoke on the inside of the building and firefighters from various departments have used the outside for high rise rescue training.

In the future, Eastern may collaborate with the Fire Service Institute in Champaign to bring in more firefighter trainees from more areas to make use of the building.

This opportunity is rare; multi-story buildings which are still structurally sound don’t get abandoned very often, especially not in a location where training could reasonably be held without endangering nearby buildings.

The training could get slightly more intense, too.

Carman was once the largest residence hall on campus, with capacity for over 800 students. Now, around 350 rooms lie empty. Each one is an opportunity for training.

Firefighters could be trained in real-life situations as each room is set on fire individually for trainees to extinguish safely.

High-rise rescue training could still continue on the exterior, and even the elevators indoors could offer opportunities for education.

The one part of Carman which most likely wouldn’t be used for this program would be what used to be the dining hall. Since that part of the structure has almost entirely separate systems running it, items currently being stored in residential areas could be moved there to continue taking advantage of that use for the space.

One bump in the plan may be the asbestos in the building, which is also one of the reasons it has not been converted into anything where people might be inside long-term.

Hudson says that the Fire Service Institute could look into getting grants to have the asbestos removed prior to training in order to make it safe to be inside.

None of these plans are fully confirmed at this point; while members of Eastern’s administration are on board, there are further details to work out and contracts to be made.

Hudson also says that no one should take Carman’s inactivity as a residence hall as a sign that the university is struggling in some way.

“Sometimes people make the jump between, ‘gosh, we’ve closed Carmen, so therefore, oh, my gosh, how are we going to be a viable institution,’” Hudson said.

He referred to closing Carman as a “right-sizing process” as the university adjusted to a larger off-campus market for student housing.

Carman is also considered “far away” compared to the rest of the university buildings. Eastern has a very small campus, so being across a street at the far end from most academic buildings is farther than some students are interested in walking.

 

Luke Taylor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]