Campus officials forbid students from entering the utility tunnels that run below campus, usually keeping quiet about their existence. But for some students, that’s all the more reason to explore.
Her first weekend at Ball State University in the fall of 2013, Jane Doe was looking for something to do. She wasn’t a partier, she says, so the typical choice for newly freed young adults was out of the question. Her friend, who had recently graduated from the residential high school on Ball State’s campus called Indiana Academy, was spending his final weekend in Muncie. He offered a solution.
Drinking and partying might have been too much for Jane’s first weekend. But trespassing—that would be okay.
They went out after dark, around 11:30 p.m. Everyone would be at the parties, they figured, and campus police would be patrolling the neighborhoods. So Jane and her friend ventured to the quad, near the southern edge of campus. Jane’s friend approached a maintenance grate near the Burkhardt Building and lifted it from the ground.
They timed their entrance carefully. They needed to watch the lights at the nearest intersection to make sure traffic would be moving past them and car passengers wouldn’t have much time to stop and look around.
Jane jumped into the hole, about a four-foot drop.
The first section of tunnels beneath Ball State’s campus was installed in the 1920s, and now they connect most buildings on campus. These tunnels were built purely for utility purposes, says Jim Lowe, the associate vice president for facilities planning and management at Ball State. The underground spaces contain high-voltage electrical lines, steam pipes covered in hot condensation, the chilled water that cools campus buildings, and almost any other service that doesn’t involve gas. They’ve never been meant as pedestrian tunnels, and they aren’t designed for easy travel, so students have never been allowed inside.
Until recently, however, not much stopped them.