A truck donated for use by television students has had a busy few years, although no students have ever been in it.
In the summer of 2010 Princeton Video Image Inc. (PVI) donated a mobile television production truck to Mercer for use by students learning broadcast and media skills. With some work, the van would be able to provide students a chance to do live broadcasts of events and breaking news in the area.
After determining what tools were needed, communications faculty members Prof. Berry Levy and Prof. Steve Voorhees, who teach the TV production courses, applied for federal Perkins grant money that would be used to purchase equipment for the vehicle. The grant funds came through in 2012 and the equipment was purchased in the spring of 2013.
But before the upgrades could be installed, the truck disappeared.
When it reappeared it was covered in promotional images imposed through a process known as vehicle wrapping, in which high performance vinyl adhesive panels are printed and then applied to a vehicle’s prepared surface. According to Zero Gravity Marketing: “A typical car wrap installation could take 7-9 hours, even longer for larger vehicles. Sometimes [it takes] two days to complete a full wrap.”
Copies of Mercer’s financial data showing precisely when the money for the wrap was requisitioned and how much it cost could not be obtained, but Vice President Dr. Guy Generals told The VOICE in an email that “The Wrap cost about $4,900 and was handled by our marketing department.”
The side and doors of the freshly wrapped news van now featured Mercer logos and images of various college programs including hospitality and horticulture, but notably not including television, film or new media.
When asked why he thought the truck was wrapped, television production Prof. Levy said: “I can only speculate and I don’t like speculating, but it is a production truck and it does have Mercer’s name on it, and we’re the only school in NJ that has this type of truck. Advertising is never a bad thing, right? I mean I’m not a marketing major by any means, but I guess visibility was probably the main thing.”
One faculty member who asked to remain anonymous for fear of job reprisals told The VOICE: “The word on the street is that the admins wanted to use the truck as some kind of mobile recruitment vehicle. I guess they were planning to drive around town and have people hop out and register students for college, but maybe they didn’t understand how news trucks are set up. There is not a lot of room in there once you get the equipment in. It’s tight. It would not be an easy space to do recruiting.”
While communications faculty waited to hear what the plan for the wrapped truck was, they moved ahead with equipment procurement that had already been under way due to the Perkins funding.
And then the truck turned up at graduation.
During the May 2013 commencement ceremonies at Mercer, the truck was parked on the grass in front of the college’s Old Trenton Road entrance. As clouds boiled overhead and students, families, and speakers arrived to participate in the festivities, it sat on display. And it sat some more as torrential rains forced the event indoors. It sat, slowly sinking into the grass and mud.
According to Kenneth MIller, Maintenance Department Supervisor at Mercer, “It was still driveable when we pulled it from the mud. The brakes were shot before we got it on campus. The truck’s old.”
Over the summer, Professors Levy and Voorhees, along with Dave Valentino, Mercer’s Chief Electronics Engineer –who had been instrumental in getting the van donated in the first place– spent their free time working on the truck, snaking wires and installing racks to support and house high-tech mobile production and broadcasting equipment.
Simultaneously, maintenance personnel were trying to get the air conditioning system working. Dan Mattonelli, a carpenter in that department told The VOICE, “When we were working on the A/C something let loose in the generator. The problem was that the truck had sat [unused] for years.”
In regard to the generator failure, Professor Voorhees said, “Without the generator we can’t power any of the equipment..”
Since August the truck has sat in the parking lot of BCI Trucks on North Clinton Avenue in Trenton waiting repair. Detailing what BCI recommended Mattonelli told The VOICE: “[the truck] needs a new generator, brakes, exhaust system, and air conditioning system.”
BCI has provided a bid for $4,900 to make preliminary repairs, but that does not include fixing the generator, and the generator is crucial for powering the news equipment.
After months of nothing happening, the day before this article went to press, Vice President Generals apparently convened Dean Robin Schore, Chief of Security and Maintenance Bryon Marshall and Chief Financial Officer Jacob Eapen. They reported to Prof. Voorhees that “The decision to fund the repairs was reached.”
According to correspondence from Marshall, the new plan is to take the vehicle to two additional vendors and to work with faculty to find a suitable replacement generator.
How long the repairs will take is unclear, but Professor Voorhees says he hopes “…to get the truck working so we can get the students involved.”