The tunnels underneath the academic mall at Stony Brook University have an almost mythical status. Most students seem to know something about them, but almost no one knows anything concrete.
Some of the more popular myths are that any student caught in the tunnels is expelled, and that the tunnels connect every building on the academic mall.
Despite the illusive nature of the tunnels, campus media shows that they have a storied history, with various mentions in the Statesman and other publications from the 1970’s to the present.
Several of the stories confirm with official sources that the tunnels are for utility pipes like steam and electricity going throughout the academic mall, and that students are not allowed in the tunnels under any circumstances.
Some of the more interesting mentions of the tunnels include when a student died by falling into an open manhole and when Suffolk County police took a student in the Red Balloon Collective, the communist club on campus, into the tunnels to escape students who were throwing rocks at them.
Clearly the tunnels are more than just a myth. But what is true, what is false and what has changed since they were last seriously reported on more than two decades ago?
Louis Rispoli, Associate Vice President Facilities and Services confirmed through an email to Lauren Sheprow, Stony Brook University Media Relations Officer, that the tunnels exist “under the academic core.”
Rispoli also said that “The tunnel system was constructed in the 1960s as the campus was being developed. The main purpose then and now is as a route for all major utilities to our academic buildings. Within the tunnel system are utilities such as high voltage electric, high temperature hot water, natural gas, chilled water, high pressure steam and domestic water.”
The University Student Code of Conduct also confirms that students are not allowed in the tunnels. Page 16, section 5c states, “No student shall enter into or upon any restricted area…Restricted areas include but are not limited to tunnels.”
Deputy Chief Bruce Redden of the Stony Brook University Police Department said that the University’s policy on the tunnels was the police’s policy.
“We have had incidents where people have been arrested down there in the tunnels,” he said. “I’m sure that we’ve also had plenty of referrals for people found in the tunnels.”
However, he checked the crime records and found nothing about the tunnels as far back as last February.
Redden also confirmed that the police patrol the tunnels on occasion, saying “I remember, while still working as a patrol officer, going down into the tunnels.”
Outside of occasional patrols though, he said that “our officers go down there when we need to or if we receive a call in reference to something that either has occurred or is occurring down there.”
However, Stony Brook’s tunnel system is far from alone. The 1982 Statesman article mentions that “SUNY at Albany has maintenance and delivery tunnels, used by all members of the campus, especially in winter.”
Adam Janover, a 20-year-old Nanoengineering student at SUNY Polytechnic Institutes Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, a campus which started as a college at SUNY Albany, gave some insight to Albany’s tunnels.
He said that the tunnels go throughout the equivalent of the academic mall, although the tunnels from the residential quads to the mall were sealed off, and also noted that no bikes or skateboards are allowed (although he said that people ignore this rule), maintenance workers frequently use the tunnels to get around in small vehicles, the tunnels are significantly warmer than the buildings and “often contain dry air,” each academic building can access the tunnels via a basement entrance and the tunnels are well-lit and a safe way to cross campus alone at night or in poor conditions.
However, the Stony Brook tunnels are different. Sheprow confirmed that students were not allowed in the tunnels “because these utility systems are dangerous to the untrained. Therefore—for safety purposes—only authorized personnel are permitted.”
Also, a sign on a door leading into the tunnels warns about asbestos. Probably not a good idea to go looking around inside.