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Where lonely bikes go for new life

With rusted chains or flat tires – and sometimes no tires at all – abandoned bicycles litter the outside of dorms and are strewn across the campus.

Until they mysteriously disappear.

Some may assume the bikes eventually fell victim to time or weather but most can be found locked away in an abandoned bicycle sanctuary beneath Denton Hall. The bikes, once donated to Terp Trader, which sold them for profit, are now being given to local high school and middle school students who can earn them by doing volunteer work through the Engaged University program.

Each summer around June, a team of four to seven workers from the Department of Residential Facilities scours the campus for bikes that appear to have been left by students. They place notices on the bikes to notify owners that their bikes are considered abandoned property. Two weeks later they return and leave another tag on the bikes. If both notices remain after three weeks, the security system is cut and the workers take the bike.

Of course, they notify University Police first, said Andrew Van Der Stuyf, the assistant director of building projects for the department. The last thing they need is to be questioned for “stealing” abandoned bikes.

After the staff collects a bike, they enter its information into a database. The database includes the bike’s make, model, serial number, color and any unique features – such as a missing seat -as well as where the bike was collected.

Residential Facilities then gives a copy of the database to University Police in case any of the bikes confiscated were reported stolen.

As for the bikes, they’re shuffled down to Denton’s basement. Students have one year to claim them, as long as they can properly identify them.

“We had one student who claimed their bike nine months after it was taken,” Van Der Stuyf said.

But the vast majority of bikes, which aren’t lucky enough to be reclaimed by loving owners, are donated to the Engaged University.

The Engaged University provides an after-school workshop for College Park high school and middle school students to help them learn “fundamental concepts of mechanics, basic personal safety, applied problem-solving and risk-assessment skills,” according to its website.

The program’s new “Earn-A-Bike” initiative allows the students to do volunteer work to earn points. When they collect enough points they earn a bicycle, which they build from the assortment of bike parts that made their way out of the Denton basement.

Van Der Stuyf said they plan to continue working with the organization.

Approximately 31 bicycles were confiscated this summer from both North and South Campus, a dramatic decrease from the more than 80 bikes that were collected from last summer. Van Der Stuyf attributes the decrease to increased advertising.

Each spring, flyers are posted on the bulletin boards in all the dorms warning students that property left over the summer will be seized by the university.

The large dark storage room under Denton Hall could be used for other purposes, Van Der Stuyf said.

“Space being such a commodity, we’d love to have something else down here,” he said.

Students who believe their bike may be in storage can call the Department of Residential Facilities at (301) 314-5680.

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