On Oct. 17, Wesleyan’s Campus Community Emergency Response Team (C-CERT) toured the basement level, or “tunnels” of the Butterfield complex. Built in 1965, the Butterfields encompassed 166,000 gross square feet in three separate dormitory buildings — A, B and C — which are connected by vibrant, graffiti-rich underground tunnels.
Through the years, the tunnels served as passageways to student residences, classrooms, administration offices, recreational areas, restrooms, laundry rooms, study areas, kitchenettes, mechanical areas, a mailroom, photographic darkrooms and even a kosher kitchen. Skateboarders marked the ground with safe paths, noting where to stop at blind corners. Artists, poets and writers used the tunnels’ walls as a concrete canvas for cartoons, prose, quotations, journals and messages.
“Students used to live, eat and study down here,” said tunnel-tour guide and C-CERT member Jeff Sweet, associate director of facilities management. “These tunnels are an incredible part of Wesleyan’s history and culture.”
Sherri Condon, accounting specialist for Auxiliary Operations and Campus Services, planned the tour so C-CERT members could learn more about unknown areas of campus. The C-CERT team, made up of Wesleyan staff and faculty, are trained to assist first responders, provide immediate assistance to victims, and organize volunteers at a disaster site.
“As a team captain, I thought it would be a good team building experience – to bring our team together to see something not normally seen on campus,” she said.
In the 1990s, the tunnel system was closed and secured due to health and safety concerns. With the upgrades to the infrastructure of the campus, these tunnels were designated as the primary conveyance of utilities to the Butterfield complex. In doing this, piping and wiring were run exposed at the ceiling level and in some cases on the walls of these tunnels. This along with the presence of asbestos limited the access to these spaces by authorized staff only.
Wesleyan’s Dining Services is the only campus service that currently occupies any part of the basement. The area is used as a storage facility for Summerfields Dining Hall. Access to any other section of the basement or tunnels is locked and access is prohibited.
“Unfortunately, it’s just too dangerous for students to be down here anymore,” Sweet said.
Photos of the Butterfield tunnels are below: (Photos by Olivia Drake)