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UH tunnel system not haunted, just dangerous, says Facilities

The purpose of the tunnels are more practical, and some may put it, more boring, than their Halloween dreams. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

The purpose of the tunnels are more practical, and some may put it, more boring, than their Halloween dreams. | Trevor Nolley/The Cougar

Dark, dirty, dank, dangerous and possibly demon infested.

The University tunnel system has rumors swirling around it that range from creepy to bizarre. From the idea that the tunnels were used to transfer dead bodies to different parts of campus, to an abandoned hot dog cart used in the days of yore, many of these rumors are just that, according to Assistant Vice President of Facilities Services Jeffrey Benjamin.

In reality, the purpose of the tunnels are more practical, and some may put it, more boring, than their Halloween dreams.

“They were constructed to create an underground conveyance system for a network of steam and chill water pipes,” Benjamin said in an email. “In recent decades, communication cables (run) between the Central Plant and the core campus buildings.”

The tunnels are still in use, but only trained personnel are allowed to traverse the vast underground network.

“The tunnels are not designed for pedestrian traffic, this is a highly industrial area that presents a number of hazards to those who are not trained and qualified to work in this environment,” Benjamin said.

History of the tunnels

The tunnels were built beginning in the 1960s when the University began expanding and wanted to keep the campus clean and green, according to UH Special Collections. While modern architecture, which is the style of many of the buildings of the time, was still popular, four more buildings were built underground along with basements of others.

Around 1980 the style faded out. About six buildings were constructed in the height of the modern architecture movement on campus.

Remaining structures

The oldest building few know about on campus is the University Computing Center, which was built in the early 1960s. The reason so few know about this structure is not only because it is underground, but it has been abandoned.

The facility was originally used to hold the University’s computing mainframes. When the facility was moved to a new location in the 1970s, the underground building was transformed into an office annex for the Ezekiel W. Cullen building.

Then, Tropical Storm Allison hit.

Allison flooded much of the Bayou City in 2001, causing extensive damage, including to every underground structure at UH. The storm led UH to lock the doors and abandon the old University Computing Center, where it sits, gathering dust, to this day.

While it may be hard pressed to include the next building in the line up, as it is now filled in, the University Center Annex was built in 1965 next to the University Center. The plan was to have a underground annex topped by a plaza so people had ample room.

The space no longer exists since the new Student Center South and Student Center North were built over the hole the annex once resided in.

One of the buildings that still exists, and debatably one of the creepiest on campus due to its seemingly never-ending construction, elevator malfunctions and basement, is Agnes Arnold Hall. The six-story building is more than half a century old and has been witness to many changes the University has undergone.

The Law Center, opened in 1970, not only has a basement, but is primarily underground, leading to flooding almost every time a severe storm hits Houston. The building is still in use but is slated to be demolished after a new Law Center is built in the coming years, bringing an end to the long-standing underground building.

Possibly the most well-known of all the underground buildings is the Student Center Satellite, which holds multiple restaurants, study spaces and a game room. The Satellite was built in 1973 and still serves students, even after being flooded by multiple storms and undergoing heavy renovations every time.

The Satellite, like the Law Center, will be redone in the coming years due to the constant flooding, once again taking away part of the once popular underground UH.

The Hilton Hotel Parking Garage, built in the early 1970s, is the last underground structure. The garage was built along with the Hilton hotel. The garage, like all other underground structures, flooded during Allison.

Other buildings that have an underground, or basement, aspect are the Fred J. Heyne building and the Student Center South, built in 1958 and 2015, respectively.

Haunted or just creepy?

The last reported time non-facilities people went into the tunnel system was in 2014. Two videos were posted online showing people who were trespassing in the tunnel system.

The videos show a lot of nothing. The halls are pitch black, aside from the flashlights the students have, and viewers can see a few doors, cables, some pipes, trash, dirt and possibly mold. All in all, what viewers could see of the tunnels isn’t pretty and instead looks like something seen on “Ghost Adventures.”

The entrances to the tunnels are few and far between. The most prominent is the staircase to nowhere near Philip Guthrie Hoffman Hall.

The staircase is sometimes blocked by a metal bar or caution tape and leads to a glass door and window that shows the pitch black abyss. The door can be opened by only those who have permission since it’s locked.

The videos do not show any apparitions, possessions or demonic voices to further the theory the tunnels are haunted. In addition, Benjamin said he has had zero paranormal encounters and has heard of no spooky stories by other members of his crew.

The Cougar cannot confirm the tunnels aren’t haunted because they aren’t safe for the public to wander the corridors.

As for the hot dog cart rumor, Facilities said they have never seen one in the tunnels.

“I have not seen a hotdog cart in the tunnels, if it is there it is well hidden, and I don’t know that I would want to eat anything from it,” Benjamin said.

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