Words by Neville Hardman
Managing Editor Neville Hardman discovers unlocked buildings on campus and tests Kent State’s safety limits. Photo by Alex Ledet.
Many buildings on campus have unlocked entrances after hours and are easy targets for vandalism and mischief.
Winding up a set of spiral metal stairs is not easy in complete darkness. Nothing guided me but the light cast by cell phones as my feet clanked to the top of the catwalks in E. Turner Stump Theatre. My breath felt shorter, and I was dizzy from the tight, continuous right turns that seemed dream-like in the sense that they wouldn’t end. There wasn’t a single peek of light as I reached the end, only narrow platforms suspended in the air, enveloped by shadows. My body stood closer to the auditorium’s high ceiling than the ground floor, overlooking the empty, dark rows of seating ahead. I wasn’t supposed to be there, but neither were my two friends.
This routine keeps me coming back. I shouldn’t be able to walk on this metal bridge regularly. I could slip over the edge. It shouldn’t be this easy.
People tramp through the hallways during the day, but as they speed away in cars and retreat to their homes, most don’t realize how simple it is to tug on a random door and slip inside. Anybody can roam across campus because it’s a public university, which means they can get into these buildings if they pick the right one. Last November, Rockwell Hall was vandalized with the message “sweat-shop slave styles trending,” in spray paint on an outside wall, but worse could have happened to any of the buildings on campus. To prove this, I’ve decided to enter as many buildings as possible in one night.
I start on the Esplanade in front of Bowman Hall, carrying a borrowed flashlight I know I’ll need if I plan to return to the catwalks in the Center for the Performing Arts.
10:07 p.m. Art Building
The Art Building has a reputation for being open late, and it’s just up ahead from my spot on the Esplanade. Shuffling to the third floor entrance, my hand extends to the cold handle, and the door swings open with little effort. The door has to be manually locked, which seems outdated for a place containing Apple computers and intricate student artwork that could be damaged by someone with an unkind heart.
I’m even quieter when I see two students engrossed in projects as I’m wandering around, their eyes fixed on their work instead of me. I slip into another room quickly, ending up in a wide workroom that embodies the will of the students who spend hours in this building, filled with elaborate paintings and designs. All I can think is how easy it would be for some careless, inconsiderate person to wreck something and not get caught. Assigned to clean this three-story building is just one man, known for his trademark squinty eyes, long beard and tattoo sleeves.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find someone sleeping here one night. There’s a waiting area on the second floor and a small nook on the top floor near offices where couches and chairs frame the area against the walls, and the heat is on full blast.
On cold nights last winter, dwellers who had no ties to Kent State were found in different campus buildings, says Jeffery Mori, the assistant director of University Facilities Management. In a situation where a non-KSU person is found, the police are called, he says.
“We take security very seriously, and sometimes that can mean an inconvenience to someone,” Mori says. “For people who are trying to get in a space [at night], we require authorization.”
10:32 p.m. Merrill Hall
I’m coming up on the side of the building, past The Brain, and the first door I pull opens. My hand grasps the handle until the door finally clicks with the frame, so it doesn’t echo a slam. Someone who’s trying to sneak in, either to escape the cold or for other reasons, would take the same measures to not get caught. Several classrooms are open along the first floor, but I figure it’s just from custodial workers making their rounds. Room 112 has a laminated, green sign inside the classroom that lists steps to complete before leaving. Two of the tasks include closing the door and windows, as well as shutting off the lights; however, two windows are open, the door is not shut and the lights remain on despite the empty space. People failed to follow these basic procedures. What else aren’t they doing?
11:39 p.m. White Hall
Finding the main doors locked has me skirting down the grassy incline to the parking deck. The large door there opens with no resistance. A faint noise of conversation above blocks me from taking the stairs because I want to avoid being seen. I’m treating this visit like I’m someone with intent. Wanting to proceed to the fourth floor, I call for the elevator, which makes more noise for someone trying to move through the building unnoticed, but it’s the only option to proceed. Upon arrival, I circle the floor and then glide down the stairs to the next level.
“Chris!” A woman screams playfully, calling for her friend as I traipse through the third floor, wrapping around each corner carefully.
Meandering through these hallways already makes me feel uneasy, mostly because it resembles an abandoned reformatory, and partly from hazy memories of counseling sessions that went poorly, but now I have to worry about dodging a congregation of people. I’ve heard this group stomping through the hallways for at least 10 minutes, although I haven’t seen any faces. Descending the stairs to the second floor lets me avoid running into them, and I pass two open computer labs. The first contains 24 Apple Mac minis. At Best Buy, they run for $499.99 apiece, excluding tax. The second holds 26 Windows computers. Anyone could take these items or destroy them, yet the doors to both labs remain wide open, inviting people to sweep through.
As I decide to move on, my hands push past the main doors on the opposite side from where I first tried entering. At the same time, a police car pulls out from the parking area where I entered and turns left onto Main Street. The driver doesn’t even see me.
The Center for the Performing Arts is often unlocked late at night, allowing visitors access to music and stage equipment.
12:20 a.m. Center for the Performing Arts
A train whistles as my feet hit the pavement to cross the street on Theatre Drive. It’s eerie, just like entering the building alone will be. I’m usually graced by good company when I come here, which is enough times to count on two hands. Trying every door at the front entrance fails because they’re all locked. Typically, I’ll enter through these main doors and walk until I duck into a hallway or stairwell, but there are still other entrances to try. Wrapping around the building, I spot another door with a staircase directly in front of it, offering two ways to go. Pulling on the handle grants access, which worries me because this side of the building faces Main Street, where strangers walk past daily.
As I drift into the main hallway, my head bobs in response to a custodial worker who greets me while reading a newspaper. I’m going the wrong way, but if I turn around, he’ll know I don’t belong. Instead of double-backing, I continue down the path and reach the end of the hall, passing another worker.
“The building closed at 11,” she says sternly as she wipes the floors.
“I’m just trying to find the pianos,” I respond nonchalantly, confident that it’s not an insane claim. Students are known to stay until the wee hours of the night to practice. What makes me any different?
“The building closed at 11,” she repeats.
I nod, but I’m not leaving yet. Dodging her for the next 20 minutes will feel like a game of “Pac-Man,” but I know this place well enough to decide which hallways to turn down to prevent meeting her again. In this game, the radio she uses warns me which hallways to avoid. Each hallway I sweep through, collecting imaginary pellets, feels closer to winning and leveling up.
I head toward the dressing rooms, where one entrance to a stage is located. Admittedly, I’m scared to enter alone. Even though there’s a flashlight in one pocket and a phone in the other, entering darkness by myself sends waves of warning signals through my head. I don’t know who else is lurking in the shadows. My heart thuds stupidly, and I hear myself draw a light breath before twisting the door handle, but it’s stiff. I’m actually glad it’s locked.
12:59 a.m. Art Building
I try the doors again to see if the building was locked after midnight. It was still early when I first entered. The same door opens, but I don’t step inside. Mori says University Facilities Management received approval to add four new, full-time custodial workers to its staff, and I hope one more person is added to this place, so the lone janitor can finally get some serenity.
1:03 a.m. Van Deusen Hall
The inside of the front doors are zip-tied with thin, black plastic, but the way they’re adjusted doesn’t prevent them from opening—a crucial mistake. Moments after I creep further inside, a plastic sheet blows against an adjacent door frame, and I think it’s from the movement of a person. Seconds later, reality settles in, and I decide that I’m jumpy because I’m not sure how late the construction workers stay.
I’m expecting the floor to shake as I continue stepping forward, stopping to stare at circle imprints on a dusty table, trying to figure out what was there. I find the stairs and climb to the second story, certain it’s a terrible idea because it doesn’t seem sturdy. I approach the railing carefully and look below, staring at the mess. Wooden boards lean against walls, and ladders clutter the ground. The floors are covered with dust. A bottle of fruit punch-flavored Gatorade sitting on a table is a sign of life, telling me this place is clearly a work in progress. Why was I able to breeze through the front door, expecting to be intimidated by the bright lights that shine above the entrance?
This area is in early stages of construction, and while workers are “tasked to let the right people in and keep everyone else out, a difficult challenge,” Mori says, it is a safety hazard for anyone who chooses to enter.
Despite a metal sign thrown on the Esplanade warning no trespassing and listing the repercussions for someone who is caught, nothing stopped me from physically entering. The 8’ 11” signs stating “Danger, Do Not Enter,” on the tri-door glass and the cluttered area were only an invitation to challenge this system.
Months later, I still haven’t been contacted about accessing these buildings. While I might have been caught on security cameras, I never faced any consequences. It could be because I didn’t cause any harm. Maybe I was written off as another curious college student. Security might have never known I was there. The facts remain the same: Many of these buildings are easy targets for theft and vandalism. Anyone could have caused damage to these buildings. It could’ve been me.