First-year Kezia Matson was walking to her morning chemistry class when the ground disappeared beneath her.

In March, Matson fell through a broken tile in front of the French Family Science Center. Falling a foot and half deep, she said her whole left leg was “radiating with pain" and that she started bleeding through her pants. She posted on the Fix My Campus Facebook page to get some answers.

“I don't know what happened. It was like the ground below me just fell through,” Matson said. “My stuff went everywhere. My friend got my bag and my coffee spilled. I was very confused for the most part.”

At least three other students have posted this semester about broken or loose tiles on walkways around campus. Matson added that some of her own professors said they also have experienced issues with broken tiles. After she fell through the tile, Matson explained that she got an email from Facilities Management saying they would tend to the area she reported soon. Although it was eventually fixed, Matson noted that she thought it took too long to fix the area. 

Darin Smith, utilities operations and maintenance manager, explained that his team compiles a list of potential problem areas every three months. Because of limited resources and time, they prioritize which sidewalks to fix based on whether they are high traffic areas or handicap access routes.

“If everybody sent something in and wanted me to fix it, then it would be a full-time job,” Smith said. “Also, we need to go out there and see—does it warrant actually getting done right now? Is there a priority ahead of it? Is there something that needs to be done that's more severe?”

Smith explained that sometimes it takes longer to fix certain areas because Facilities Management needs to keep pedestrian traffic moving.

“Because of the interruptions, sometimes we actually have to re-route temporarily the pedestrian traffic, so that we aren't stopping somebody who may be handicapped," he said. "I don't want students to walk through the road while I'm fixing a sidewalk. So, it takes some time to get things accessibly coordinated.”

Smith added that there are multiple reasons tiles have been breaking. The biggest reason, he said, is that people drive onto the curb or onto the sidewalks, especially when deliveries are being made. 

“It absolutely drives me crazy because I can't stay ahead of [these incidents] if people keep abusing it," he said. "We're actually trying to look at educating and reinforcing our own people to say ‘don't do this.’”

However, there were other reasons that can cause a tile to break, Smith noted. Heavy carts being pushed over them or just the weight of people have caused them to crack or come loose. In the winter, water freezes underneath the tiles and also breaks them. 

“I've worked at Duke for 21 years, and I love Duke University. I love the campus,” Smith said. “I'm very proud of it, and I love the student populations because they come here for four or five years, and it's an experience that we hope is positive. If people knew how serious we took it, I think they would be a little more accepting of what it takes to keep this campus right.”