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Students concerned over wall’s sickly demeanour 

 Photos by Justin Lab & Yaneric Bisaillon.

These days, the living wall in the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS) building looks about as full of life as the library on Christmas Day.

Once the crown jewel of FSS, the living wall is experiencing a mechanical problem that’s causing the foliage to die.

The six-storey wall was developed by Nedlaw Living Walls and it undergoes monthly checkups. It was during one of these maintenance rounds in June that they noticed something was wrong. Since then, many of the plants have either died off or rotted.

Earlier in the month, the university brought in Nedlaw founder Alan Darlington to find the reason behind the wall’s decay.

Maintenance of the wall requires “a lot of coordination of a pretty broad range of people,” said Darlington, including engineers and computer scientists. Because of this, the university is considering a variety of different potential problems, such as plumbing and electricity.

Darlington believes aging lightbulbs may be the issue. The insufficient lighting means the plants are not getting as much as they need, he said.

Darlington said he’s certain it’s “not a tough fix,” but they want to make sure they have determined the problem before attempting to solve it. They have to act carefully because the living wall “requires a little bit more finesse to make it work properly,” he said.

Students at the University of Ottawa have certainly taken notice.

“I’m disappointed,” Christine Kiki Lefebvre, a fourth year accounting student wrote in an email to the Fulcrum. “The university made such a big deal about this amazing, green living wall that would be so good for the building, but within (two) years, it’s dying.”

Yaneric Bisaillon, vice-president of academic affairs of the International Studies, Political Science and Policy Studies Student Association (IPPSSA), also expressed his dismay.

“It is sad that such an interesting project is literally dying,” Bisaillon wrote to the Fulcrum. “It makes us wonder how much does the Faculty of Social Sciences want to support a green environment?”

The University of Ottawa sent out a tweet to reassure students they are looking into the problem.

“Facilities wishes to express that we understand how frustrating it is to see our wall in this state and we take it very seriously,” said Alexis Michaud, Manager of Ancillary Services of the U of O’s Physical Resources Service. “We appreciate the importance of this feature for the university’s community and do not take it lightly.”

The wall was unveiled in October 2013 as part of renovations that put all the social sciences students and faculty members together under one roof.

The wall is more than just a pretty feature, said Darlington. According to a U of O press release from 2013, the wall acts as a “biofilter” that cleans “80 to 85 per cent of the volatile organic compounds in the air in a single pass.” The wall is hooked to the air system and filters it “without having to go through a lot of really nasty and detrimental environmental impacts,” Darlington explained.

He noted that the wall’s filtering functions have not been compromised.