Hamline News

What Lies Beneath

beneath article

Minnesota is the most northern of the continental United States, and students are reminded of this every year around mid-December. As they walk between classes, the wind whipping across their frostbitten faces, they wonder why Hamline doesn’t have underground tunnels connecting buildings, a feature that some larger universities provide.

Most students don’t realize that an extensive network of tunnels runs right beneath their feet. Moving through ten separate buildings, they connect almost every major structure on campus; only they weren’t built as an escape from the weather. “These tunnels act as the distribution point for all energy: steam, water, electrical, computer network, internet, cable… everything,” said Lowell Bromander, associate vice president for facility services.

Utilitarian in purpose, the tunnels resemble a system of caves more than a scenic walkway. With electrical wires hanging from the cement walls, and thick pipes emerging from the floor like stalagmites, it’s easy to lose your way in these darkened catacombs.

But for all their gloomy similarities, each tunnel is surprisingly unique. Some, like the one beneath Hewitt Avenue, are barely wide enough to squeeze through. Others are enormous caverns, such as the tunnel under Bush Library, which has a ceiling almost two stories high.

While most tunnels have always been closed to students, until recently a tunnel running between Manor and Sorin Hall was open, providing students with a quick way to get to Sorin for breakfast, lunch, or dinner without having to venture outside.

Despite being the safest tunnel, it was far from ideal in appearance. “I remember it being really hot down there, with boiler pipes running along the walls and ceiling,” said Jen Thorson ’96, associate vice president for marketing and communications at Hamline, who lived in both Sorin and Manor during her years at Hamline. “But we didn’t have to go outside.”

Some travelers took it upon themselves to leave their mark on the tunnel’s barren walls. Over the decades animals, people, and other images were drawn on the walls, resulting in Hamline’s own Paleolithic-style cave paintings.

Although the Sorin tunnel was the only passage officially open to students, Bromander said that he’d often find “students of the past in all sorts of places. We’d wonder how they’d get down there,” he said.

All that changed after 9/11. “Homeland Security cautioned us about having unsecured access to the infrastructure, so we’ve really heightened security since then,” said Bromander, who explained that that was why the Sorin tunnel was ultimately closed. General security was also increased throughout the tunnels and all of the doors were fitted with new locks.

“It would be nice if the university had transportation tunnels for the winter, but these wouldn’t work,” Bromander said. Like many utility structures, he explained, the tunnels weren’t intended for casual use.

“It all comes down to a risk management issue, especially when you think of what’s going through these tunnels. High voltage electricity, high pressure steam… it’s just too dangerous,” Bromander said. While in the past students were able to explore these subterranean passageways, today students can only look at the frosted earth and wonder what lies beneath.

By: Daniel Campbell