Archive for Wednesday, September 3, 2008

KU unplugs steam whistle to cut costs

A century-old KU tradition ends on Wednesday. KU is no longer blowing its horn to signal the end of classes. 6News reporter Mark Fagan explains why the move is affecting more than just the distinct sound people hear on campus.

September 3, 2008


The steam whistle on top of the Facilities Operations building at Kansas University has been shut down to save $3,000 a year. The whistle has traditionally signaled the end of class periods at KU.

The steam whistle on top of the Facilities Operations building at Kansas University has been shut down to save $3,000 a year. The whistle has traditionally signaled the end of class periods at KU.

Don Steeples embraces tradition, understands the importance of getting to class on time and respects the public's communal reliance on familiar on-campus rituals.

He also knows that tooting KU's familiar steam whistle costs about $3,000 a year.

So he pulled the plug.

"We could buy paint for about a dozen classrooms a year with what's being blown out into the sky," said Steeples, a senior vice provost at Kansas University. "The final decision is to shut the whistle down."

A whistle first blew on campus in 1899 and started signaling the end of classes in 1912. After high pressure blew the metal whistle off a power plant roof in January 2003, a brand-new model - financed by a faithful KU alum, who is a Lawrence surgeon - went into service three months later.

Now, as of this semester, the custom-made unit is silent.

"I wish they still had it, because I heard it was kinda cool," said Erin Bigler, a KU freshman from Wichita, whose friends had touted the tin tooter. "Everybody was like, 'Yeah, it's the end of class!' And then go out. :

"The first day of class, I was listening for it. I didn't hear it, and I was like, 'OK, you're lying to me.' But they weren't."

Matt Hinsz, a KU senior and member of the men's hockey club, acknowledged it would be difficult to shake the sound that he'd heard for several years - even when he worked on 23rd Street, well away from the main campus,.

"I guess we'll just have to live without it," he said.

That's because KU is working to cut costs, Steeples said, as leaders have been told to plan on a 2 percent budget reduction by June 30 and, perhaps, another 5 percent for the next fiscal year.

"Our utility budget is over $10 million a year, so $3,000 out of $10 million is not much," Steeples said. "But every $3,000 that we spend on blowing steam into the air is $3,000 that we can't spend on paint or other things that are necessary to keep the campus running. And the whistle is simply not necessary to keep the campus running."

Steeples considered the value of retaining a campus tradition, but that idea vaporized as fast as the steam released at temperatures higher than 300 degrees.

"A lot of our traditions don't cost money," said Steeples, who has worked at KU for 34 years. "The waving the wheat doesn't cost money. The Rock Chalk cheer is a strong tradition that doesn't cost anything, so this really sort of boils down to budget and practicality on one hand trumping tradition on the other."

Steeples balked at the suggestion that some KU graduate might hear about the silent whistle, and then decide to donate money to return the reverberations back to campus.

But he wouldn't rule the concept out, either.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Steeples said. "I'd much rather see them donate for something we really need. Lord knows, we've got plenty of needs."

On the street

Are you going to miss the KU steam whistle?

It’s really sad that they’re shutting it down. It’s definitely a part of KU’s tradition.

More responses


cms 9 years, 6 months ago

how sad. how sad. it is just not right.

pace 9 years, 6 months ago

What is it going to cost to synchronize all the clock in all the classrooms? Time and tradition should count . I really hate how they decided this and then announced it. Sad when an outside can decide that this is just not important.

Hawk6643 9 years, 6 months ago

I would rather pay 25 cents more in student fees to be able to have the steam whistle than not have it. 3 grand will not make a dent big enough to lessen the effects of rising utilites.

ictjhawk 9 years, 6 months ago

Come on KU! You can spend $90,000 on trees to supposedly hide the new football practice fields? There are many more viewing spots.And Mr. Steeples comment about tradition. The waving the wheat and the rock chalk chant wouldn't be done if it weren't for paying spectators at sporting events.It's $3,000 per year....Lew Perkins probably wastes that each month on frivolous items! I could pass a hat and collect the money to keep such a big part of KU active.

FatTony 9 years, 6 months ago

It looks like i am going to have to go "lean" on someone if you know what i mean and get this straightened out. I am sure a freindly visit from a few of Fat Tony's guys will get Mr. Steeples to reconsider. I think East Coast Lew is familiar with this practice and knows it gets results.

Dwight_Schrute 9 years, 6 months ago

Perhaps you could ask La Riviere during his 11:00 am chat on the LJW tomorrow. You can submit your question early if you want...

Hail2KU 9 years, 6 months ago

I'm telling you these non-KU alumni administrators could not care less about long standing KU traditions. Absolute myopians!

Bud Stagg 9 years, 6 months ago

They just crossed the line. I have just suspended my donations to the Williams fund and will not be buying anymore tickets to any event until this is fixed. So now they just lost more than the $3000 they saved. I know they are not related funds, but they all go to KU.

clyde_never_barks 9 years, 6 months ago

Michael J - that's where you are a bit wrong. The board is run by KU. Their CEO used to be Hemenway's lackey. Just ask Penguin.

OwlHead 9 years, 6 months ago

BRING BACK THE WHISTLEBRING BACK THE WHISTLEBRING BACK THE WHISTLE Maybe they could recapture the steam and boil corn for the cafeteria???

alicenevada 9 years, 6 months ago

What?!? This makes me so sad...I have been wondering where the whistle went! So many time I walked by it en route to Watson or Twente, just to have my eardrums blown out, and since it has been silent, I have found that I miss it! Bring the whistle back!!

Jennifer Forth 9 years, 6 months ago

I'm with Morganlefey - don't miss it. Since most days I spend going from Blackboard to blackboard, I'd go for the infrastructure upgrade any day!

Doug Fisher 9 years, 6 months ago

Geez, how many more things about this town have to disappear? I miss hearing that whistle when I lived in Lawrence. You could hear it from the west side of town. It just seems like another thing about the town that would keep me from ever moving back there. I wonder if a little donation from a number of people along with a petition would convince them to keep it?

Lesta 9 years, 6 months ago

Bad move. Just the other day I was thinking about the whistle and I'm damn near 15 years removed from my glorious days in Larryville...Sheesh, if I had the three grand to pony up for this, I'd be whipping out the check book right now.

ictjhawk 9 years, 6 months ago

KU Alums and students unite.....send an e-mail to the chancellor. His address is

Mike Edson 9 years, 6 months ago

Good riddance to that whistle. Not everyone appreciated hearing that thing go off everyday. If you want to get to class on time buy a watch.

BlackVelvet 9 years, 6 months ago

Everyone should let the board of regents know their feelings. That is Chancellor Hemenway's boss...and he needs to be reined in! He has increased the administrations at KU since he got here, even though he promised to decrease it. Too many chiefs at the top. Board of letter's going out first thing in the morning.

vhawk 9 years, 6 months ago

wtf just one student's tuition for a semester pretty much covers the cost of the whistle for the year. Its not like KU is hurting, isn't freshman enrollment at an all time record high this year? Seriously, seriously?

yankeelady 9 years, 6 months ago

If it doesn't generate a profit it's gone. Just another example of how little KU traditions matter to the current administration. When you look at the things they find to spend money on, this is just another slap in the face to students and alumns. Thanks a bunch.

Reid Hollander 9 years, 6 months ago

This is especially bad considering that if you go to the university created youtube channel they have a video promoting traditions. While interviewing students about their favorite traditions they reference the whistle! it.

smartmomma 9 years, 6 months ago

I AM REALLY CONFUSED ABOUT THE CAPTION UNDER THE PHOTO"Kansas University's Facilities Operations workers,affix the new steam whistle. The whistle was installed Friday on KU's power plant, where it signals the end of classes. The old whistle cracked in January. "NEW WHISTLE? WHAT.?.?.?ALSO if they cut this guy from the crew, they could def. save that $3,000 a year...DUH" Kansas University's Facilities Operations workers, as fellow worker George Cone watches. "

feaguru 9 years, 6 months ago

Are you serious? I have two issues with this article. First, the title is weak. KU "unplugs" the whistle. When was the last time you woke up and unplugged your steam whistle. Not this cat. I may decide to not add any firewood to the base pit which resides direct below my steam pot...but unplug, never.Second, I am sure removing budget leaks is not the only reason for icing the traditional steam whistle. Someone with money/power is tired of hearing it or maybe students get confused thinking they will have to get across the street before the train comes or else be late for class and then end up running in front of blvd traffic. It has happened to me and I pulled the "no fun" card on that one.Anyway, I am just saying we should have volunteers standup in class and wave the wheat in place of the now quiet whistle. So next time you are in class and the teacher wants to continue past the end time, wave the wheat. It's free.

TheBurf 9 years, 6 months ago

Considering all the construction projects KU has started in the last 5 years...this is rediculus. There has to be more to this. $3000 is chump change to KU. They are trying to make a statement of some kind.

West_Sider 9 years, 6 months ago

How much could they "save" by renting out the Chancellors house to the highest bidder and moving the first family into a rental condo in town?

Monty Amick 9 years, 6 months ago

BOOOO!! HISSSSSS!One more neat thing down the crapper. Surely all that money KU made shipping one of the football games to Arrowhead could cover this, eh? What a joke KU has turned into.

Jeteras 9 years, 6 months ago

wow the fact that the whistle has been blowing way over 100 years should be enough to keep it going. I wondered what was wrong. KU grad and now working in Lawrence I have heard the whistle for the last 20 years. Someone start a "Keep the whistle on" march. I will gladly donate!

wagenseil 9 years, 6 months ago

Having known Don Steeples for a number of years, it seems highly implausible that he had anything to do with this decision -- he's just the messenger. My guess is LaRiviere is tired of getting jolted out of his seat by the damn thing going off nearby. Working on campus, I dislike it as well, and was really happy when it broke. But, tradition is important (seriously...), and for those who are here only four (five...six...) years, rather than decades, it is an important part of KU. Meanwhile this argument that we are doing this to save $3,000 is completely ludicrous.

JerryStubbs 9 years, 6 months ago

The article didn't say what they would have to replace the whistle. Maybe if they make a recording of it then play it through a big speaker it will sound good enough.

Ray March 9 years, 6 months ago

come on!! you can't cut the whistle!!someone donate $3000

Bob Forer 9 years, 6 months ago

George Braziller wrote: "What about using one day's interest from the Endowment Association investments?"__________Try 8 1/2 minute's interest. KU Endowment fund increased in size by 190 million between 2007 and 2008. That's $520,000/day and $21,666/hr 3,000 translates into 8 1/2 minutes or so of earnings. You wanna hear my two cents: "TWO CENTS" I suggest that we appropriately shame the Chancellor by placing a few empty bushel buckets around campus and town (Lets not forget to place one right outside Hemmenway's office) and urge everyone to pitch in their "two cents"--both figuratively and literally--in support of tradition. I mean, come on. Why let some rich guy from Mission Hills or a multi-national corporation steal the thunder by writing what would be, to them a "chump change" check, allowing them to opportunistically steal the thunder while at the same time getting the Chancellor and this idiot idea off the hook. The tradition doesn't belong to them. It belongs to us. Yes, us. Every damned one of us. Lets show 'em how easy the good folks of KU, Lawrence, and Kansas can deal with "complicated" issues.

bearded_gnome 9 years, 6 months ago

penguin,that was my exact response! I think this is in the paper, was stopped, exactly to get somebody to pony up the cash. I agree, would be very sad if it remained silent. That whistle is an important part of KU's history, and current life. heck, if you live out in the community, you could assess atmospheric conditions, depending on whether you could hear it. from one and a half miles away in east lawrence, how i well remember on very cold mornings how that whistle sounded.

bluerose 9 years, 6 months ago

i am curious how blowing the steam whistle (which i LOVE, even when it makes me jump) costs $3000/year? boo on you KU, for letting go of this tradition. there are other ways to cut that $3000, i'll surely bet.

brainfreeze 9 years, 6 months ago

morganalefay...i've got this suspicion that you didn't actually go to school at KU and you just work there. if so, then it makes more sense why you're completely out of touch with why alumni are so upset about a long-standing tradition being taken away to save an annual amount of money that is likely smaller than what don steeples pays each time he goes shopping. this is a way bigger deal than the 3k worth of savings it would provide.

KS 9 years, 6 months ago

Lew can sell his red Corvette to pay for this. This is a joke and extremely BAD publicity for KU. Ditto on the trees at $90,000? Who the h**l is the landscaper on that one? Perkins Dirt Company? Where is the Endowment Association? They make more than this a day on interest. Needless to say, this will generate a lot of talk on this web page.

sjschlag 9 years, 6 months ago

"Just wait in a few days some big money alum will step up and pay to restore the whistle. I have a feeling this is being marketed as a "real" cut in search of a donation."Penguin, you are right on! this could be a smart move by the university to get some money, especially with budget cuts coming around the corner. I just hope that money comes soon....lawrence is silent without a whistle.

Bob Forer 9 years, 6 months ago

They will spend close to a hundred grand to create the new Trajan font and KU Blue Color (big fricking ladeeda), but they can't find 3 G to continue a timeless Jayhawk tradition. Amazing. Fricking amazing.

Curtis Lange 9 years, 6 months ago

In a reply from Don to an email I sent last evening, it is all about a 'culture change' guys. Because the university is trying to go green rolls eyes, this is ok. Since this whistle is running on gaseous gold, it must be stopped to save the planet!!

George_Braziller 9 years, 6 months ago

What about using one day's interest from the Endowment Association investments?

volunteer 9 years, 6 months ago

Two hundred grand last year for a new position of provost for diversity (or something akin to that) yet KU eliminates the steam whistle to save three grand. The head honchos are not serving the university well.

JoRight 9 years, 6 months ago

I doubt unplugging the whistle was solely for the fact of saving $3k; the people at play know what they wanted and got exactly what they wanted: the reaction of the public.There's more to the story than just $3k. There are going to be cuts and stuff like this is going to be fall back for said cuts. "Why did you cut Bob? Yet, still run that damn whistle?" I'm sure there will be other ridiculous things to come and to think cutting the whistle shows anything is a joke.There is no doubt the University has its "favorites." Favorite employees, favorite departments etc. Departments "immune" to the cuts are probably the exact ones that should be targeted, yet under budgeted, poorly staffed departments are deprived again.In the end, the cuts should result in a cutting of "dead weight." I'd hate to see as the Chancellor eluded to earlier, the cutting of classes and extending the graduation length to 5 years; anyone that has ever worked for the University knows that there are a lot of ways to save cash.

geniusmannumber1 9 years, 6 months ago

Ah, yes. Once again, people thinking that KU supports the athletic program, rather than the other way around. Once people figure this out, their arguments will make a lot more sense. At least they won't bring up football.

brent flanders 9 years, 6 months ago

maybe a couple of our March Madness heroes could drop a doob a week to cover the cost.seriously, KU should be proud of traditions and maintain them, even when it cost a few $.very disappointing.

dipweed 9 years, 6 months ago

uuhhh....finally I'll get some sleep in the morning.

texjhawk 9 years, 6 months ago

My child's out-of-state tution is more than enough for KU to blow the steam whistle....keep the tradition KU, what are you thinking??

penguin 9 years, 6 months ago

Just wait in a few days some big money alum will step up and pay to restore the whistle. I have a feeling this is being marketed as a "real" cut in search of a donation.

compmd 9 years, 6 months ago

How much did the new signage and stop signs at the traffic booths cost? And the Segway that chargup mentioned? This is no longer the university I attended.

Dan Edwards 9 years, 6 months ago

Agreed... $3000.00 is chump change when it comes to such a long-held tradition at a university of this size. I expect they will reverse this bone-headed decision in the coming days.

KURocks 9 years, 6 months ago

ICTJhawk:Your email address comes back as undeliverable for Robert Hemenway

Ryan Eakin 9 years, 6 months ago

Steam whistle or otherwise, the University needs some sort of a bell system. What's going to remind long winded professors to stop rambling on past the end of class? Are the students just going to come silently walking out of classrooms at 20 minutes past the hour?

Evan Ridenour 9 years, 6 months ago

I can't believe they shutdown the whistle because it costs $3,000 a year. That steam whistle is something that everyone in Lawrence recognizes and students across campus have come to listen to during their day. It is a huge piece of campus life and they removed it because it costs $3,000? Asinine. Screw you KU!I already pay more in tuition than most graduate students because I am in the Business school and now I don't even get a damn steam whistle to help me organize my day. KU has what..? 35,000 students on the main campus...? That comes to about 9 cents per student per year. I already pay hundreds of dollars for student fees for items, services and organizations I don't use, charge me another 9 cents and let me have my freaking whistle!!!

pace 9 years, 6 months ago

What a rotten idea. What a bunch of crap. They spend more on paper, that could be emailed or special stationary, heck, I don't like this. Telling us after the fact, BOOO.

BaxterC 9 years, 6 months ago

Maybe they should not have waisted their money on that stupid KU sign!

Green_Trees_Brown_Dirt 9 years, 6 months ago

That steam generates plenty of wind power. Have the wind power turn a generator. Have the generator power something else. Maybe it could light our stadium so we can see our team fumble at night. Save money. Live better.That steam contains plenty of water vapor. Capture the water vapor, condense to drops, and return for use elsewhere. (How much does gravity cost?) Perhaps the "distilled" water could be used to cool off our heroic sports stars when they need a drink. Cut the cord with Coke, Gatorade, et al. Save money. Live better.That pipe has got to be hot. Transfer the heat elsewhere or into another form of energy and use it elsewhere. Save money. Live better.

BlackVelvet 9 years, 6 months ago

I'm glad I'm retiring from KU soon. I'm embarassed to say that I work there. $3000 per year for the whistle? gimme a frigging break. They pay much more than that in b.s. frivolous crap. They can afford to keep this! It's just someone's attempt to say "we're doing something to cut costs!"Give me a break Steeples! You apparently don't know as much as you think you do about KU

yoornotmee 9 years, 6 months ago

I'm not a sports fan, I'm not a KU student or KU alum, I'm just a Lawrencian who grew up hearing that whistle in the background of my life and I must say, I'm going to miss it a bit.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 9 years, 6 months ago

They'll put it back up when the "deep pockets" crowd catches wind of this.I was right next to "Flint Hall" in the 80's when the original whistle "blew up". It had rusted at the bottom and shot up like a rocket when it went off one fall afternoon. "Wheeeee.... Fsssssssst!!!"

brainfreeze 9 years, 6 months ago

theres really nothing i can say that hasn't already been said on this thread....but seriously? 3k to get rid of a tradition thats been around for much longer than probably everyone on this board?most of the time i'm very proud of being a KU alum. times like this, i have no choice but to shake my head and wonder what has happened to things back home.

jackdaniels 9 years, 6 months ago

Pass the hat at the next game and plug the f** whistle back in. Here's $50..........

gccs14r 9 years, 6 months ago

Maybe the engineering school can figure out how to make it solar-powered to cut the utility cost.

beatrice 9 years, 6 months ago

If the development department can't find someone to support a great tradition by contributing $3k a year, then KU needs a new development department. I'm sure they can get some tea company to sponsor it if they had to.

KURocks 9 years, 6 months ago

I sent an email to Hemenway, and he said he would forward to Dick L. Dick doesn';t care about the whistle.

OzChicklet 9 years, 6 months ago

I say we need a good old fashioned MARCH! Something worthy to sound off about! Sign, banners, flags, sit-ins! Maybe a little hand holding and cumbaya signing. CHANTS: We won't go until we hear the whistle blow! (repeat)If they are worried about using the $3,000 for "paint", then go to the Household Hazardous Waste Site. They have FREE paint that has nothing wrong with it. Who cares if it's a strange color. We could have our whistle and blow it too!

Bob Forer 9 years, 6 months ago

This is obscene. The Kansas Jayhawk, The Rock Chalk Chant, The Wheel, the Campanile and Clarion, Hoch Auditorium, Strong Hall, Potters Lake, et al., AND THE WHISTLE are the priceless "things" that tie and bind generations of Kansas Jawhawks into one. For a lousy three grand?????? You're shi**ing me. This is an cynical as picking Palin as VP.

chargdup 9 years, 6 months ago

Maybe they could have eased up on one of the Segways and the Kampus Kops could have used a bike.One

JayCat_67 9 years, 6 months ago

Sycophant, With just what they spent on that stupid "font" (only to find out some other KU in Pennsylvania was already using it) they could fund that whistle for almost 30 years. Maybe some alum will finance the thing, but then it would have to be called the "Smith Family Whistle" or the "Smithcorp Whistle" with a loud speaker blaring this fact every hour just before the whistle blows.

morganalefay 9 years, 6 months ago

I work up there on the hill and this is the first I've heard about the whistle being removed. That means that I don't miss it. Not at all. Unfortunately, sometimes I timed things wrong and walked by it just as it went off. That was annoying, to put it lightly.The lack of a whistle has not led to chaos on campus or frantic students missing class that I've noticed and I sure haven't heard any complaints from them. I agree that KU can cut lots of frivolous costs. This is just one of them.I wish people would be this motivated to write letters, checks and whatever else to improve buildings, improve the libraries or something else that's useful. But all this effort and outpouring of emotion for a whistle?! You've got to be kidding me.

nekansan 9 years, 6 months ago

The solution is not to have someone donate $3000. But to have a big donor pull their $1,000,000 donation they have already pledged if the tradition is not restored. Then make the university commit to continue the tradition as a condition of accepting their funds.

Kent Fisher 9 years, 6 months ago

Mark my words...after all this public outcry, they will reinstate the use of the whistle. Just another PR fiasco for our university.

Chris Golledge 9 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, when my hard drive get's full, I always look for the 1K files first. :-Back to the trees. Who is the DA that didn't think about "spies" before putting in the new practice field? Yeah, athletics always supports the university. That's why they forced an increase in meal costs in order to subsidize athletic scholarships.

kansasplains 9 years, 6 months ago

First of all, fire Don Steeples. This is the same kind of mentality that didn't want a parade when KU won last year. A completely new team, development-wise, should be brought in, starting with the Chancellor.

towardtheblue 9 years, 6 months ago

I was shocked to see this story on CNN this morning. As posted above, KU would be VERY hard-pressed to find a cheaper expense to cut. That is a terrible decision, eliminating a 100-year-old tradition, especially a purposeful, nearly irreplaceable and perfectly functional one, without even posing the issue to the alumni, the city, the students. It's such a STUPID gaffe, I wonder if it's just a ploy to rile up the donors to give even more... Either way, despicable!

ayres 9 years, 6 months ago

Hhmmm.....don't give the Brits any ideas. Next thing you know their beloved Big Ben will be silenced...and the original flag that flew over Ft. McHenry won't be raised at the Smithsonian....Fiddler on the Roof....what can I say!

doc1 9 years, 6 months ago

I doubt it costs as much as they say it does.

Reason McLucus 9 years, 6 months ago

I doubt that KU can find any less expensive way to notify the campus when classes end than the whistle. The whistle isn't doesn't just notify professors it's time for class to end. The whistle notifies students and professors outside the classrooms who are absorbed in some activity that it may be time for them to go to class. Students walking from the dorms know they may need to walk a little faster if they hear the whistle.

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