February 24, 2004

Electricity loss blacks out Mardi Gras festival at Ida

Night fell twice on students who attended last Friday's Mardi Gras celebration at Ida Noyes; a power outage shut down the event, one in a series of outages that struck the campus during the evening.

The lights went out at 10:24 p.m., less than an hour and a half after the event had opened, and did not come back on until 12:04 a.m. After the initial surprise, the atmosphere was calm, according to Scott Corkran, assistant director for Ida Noyes Hall Operations.

Corkran estimates that at the time of the blackout, there were approximately 1,000 people in the building. The staff did not know when the power might come back, so the first step taken was evacuation. Corkran, impressed with the students and staff present, said that the evacuation went smoothly.

Several other campus buildings were affected by the outage, including the new GSB building and the residences from 57th to 59th Streets on Woodlawn. The outage was apparently due to a fault in the electrical feed line through which Commonwealth Edison, the campus electricity provider, supplies power to the University. According to Bob Griffith, acting associate vice president of facilities service, this power outage was not related to Thursday's outage in the Reynolds Club.

"Thursday's outage at Reynolds was related to a localized problem that occurred when ComEd attempted to re-energize a transformer that serves the buildings around the Hutch Commons quad," Griffith said.

The outage at Ida Noyes put a halt to the merry event, which featured food catered from several Hyde Park restaurants, a DJ from KISS 103.5, and a live Latin band. Also present were caricature artists, palm readers and face painters. The Council on University Programming (COUP), which sponsored the event along with ORCSA, paid the companies and performers in full for their abbreviated performance.

"Fortunately, we have a long-standing relationship with many of these service providers who feel terrible about the situation and are willing to work on future events to help make up for some of the loss," remarked Stella Lee, one of the event chairs.

Given the event's premature finale, there was a large surplus of food left over. Lee explained that the remaining food was distributed to COUP board members and to volunteers who helped clean up. "This way, they would be able to reach the pockets of the student population that live in dorms, fraternity housing, so that the food would not go to waste," added Lee.

Parted from their beers and denied their party, students had reason to be annoyed. Still, some, like third-year in the College Morgan Stern, were cheerful. "It was perfect," he said. "I arrived, got a bite to eat, and the power went off before I could embarrass myself on the dance floor."

Others, like fourth-year Marian Livingston, enjoyed the event for its unexpected drama.

"My roommate found herself, after having waited in the face-painting line for 30 minutes, suddenly in the dark with a half-grown plant design gracing her cheek," she said. She added that, while it was a shame there was an outage, the circumstances brought forth an element of "authenticity" to the evening, "forcing U of C-ers to take the party to the streets for once."

Third-year in the College Ryan Monarch was not surprised by the outage. "It's actually amazing that things like this don't happen more often, given the age of the building," he said. Monarch said that every catastrophe has its heroes, and Friday night was no exception. "I was greatly amused by a juggler who entertained us in the dark with his glowing neon pins," he noted.

Evidently no mayhem resulted from Friday night's outage. Scott Corkran said he heard no reports of injury or theft. The redistribution of coats to the students, he said, presented the most difficult challenge of the night. Said Stella Lee, "COUP board members and ORCSA staff handed out the coats by sending up two people at a time from the first floor to the second floor. The COUP board directed the traffic and made sure that there was no more than a couple of people at a time coming up the stairs to retrieve their coats." Coats left in the coat check after the clean-up crew had finished work were stored in the Ida Noyes office.