I’m awoken in the night by an emergency of heat: a lack thereof. Water below the floors is running cold, contrary to design. The urgency cannot be understated in the late November of Northern New England.


Get a plumber. Get a person who knows how to plumb, by God.

Why? Because cold.

A white van emblazoned with a fine French Candian name pulls up in the morn. The bearded face, the multimeter, and the iPhone together plumb the depths of the building to diagnose a mal du chaud.

What malady lies within this beast of metal and plastic?  On the wall hangs the box wherein flows the charge of electrons determining a life sheltered vs. a life exposed. Get an electrician.


Get a person who knows how to wire, by God.

Why? Because cold.

Institutions summon plumbers and electricians, figuratively speaking, in mechanical attempts to fix: fix component parts, fix expectations, fix people.

The worst offenders? Institutions of education. All is coded. Roles are played. People are appointed. We tinker with systems. Expectations are implied or stated. What goes UNsaid is often most important to those charged with meeting those expectations.

That complicated institution by which water is heated during the night while the cost of electricity is low (called off-prime), then circulated beneath the floors during the day to heat the rooms, includes the added feature of a system override.  This could only end badly.


On the wall, melted wires lying in a tangle of plastic prevent the flow of energy from a source to its destination. We can only guess at HOW it melted.  Was it caused by something within or without?

Later, a new van arrives, carrying another bearded face, another multimeter, and an Android phone this time. The face is just as friendly as the last though it carries the reek of ugly tobacco.

He descends. He looks. He pokes. He makes a phone call.
He ascends. “I don’t know how to fix it,” he states matter of factly.

What followed were the facts. “It’s too confusing,” came the truth, “I have to get someone else over here to look at it.”

As he turns to go, he shares a final thought: “You’re lucky you didn’t have a fire. Those wires are all melted together.”


Should the electrician replace the wiring to restore electrical flow, or, should he determine whether or not the elements within the tank are causing the wiring to overheat?  To do so is expensive.  However, an opportunity may be missed to solve the underlying problem.

Meanwhile, cold.

How long to admire the problem before acting?

Once water is warmly flowing beneath the floors, for how long can it be sustained?

Institutions encounter similar questions.

Educational institutions cannot answer questions about repair because they cannot ask them frankly.  They can’t ask the questions frankly because to do so upsets the delicate balance that maintains a fragile political ecosystem.

So: frozen.



How does your educational institution tinker in attempts to repair?

Who agrees on what to fix?

Is there a system override?

Who hoards the information?

Who calls the plumber?