May 04, 2012 by Alissa Falcone
Ninety Millennium Hall residents have been displaced from their housing due to a small lighting fixture fire that occurred May 1 in one of the bathrooms on the ninth floor of the building. The resulting sprinkler activation damaged three floors of the freshman residence hall, making them unfit to inhabit.
A Drexel advisory text message sent at approximately 2:12 p.m. May 1 stated that there was a minor fixture fire in a Millennium Hall bathroom and that while there was some water damage, there weren’t any injuries.
The fire alarm sounded at 11 a.m., and all students in the building were forced to evacuate. While the building was closed, staff from University Facilities, Environmental Health and Safety, and contracted vendors worked to dry the floors and walls damaged by the activated sprinkler.
Residents of the building, including those not living on floors 7 through 9, were kept out of the building until it reopened at 6 p.m. that evening.
According to Casey Condon and Grant Houpt, two residents of the ninth floor, a maintenance order had been placed for the faulty light fixture that later caught fire.
“The lighting fixture that caught fire had not been working for several days previous to the incident, and our RA, Freddy May, put in a work order regarding the fixture four days before the incident,” Houpt, a freshman business major, said.
However, Joe Russo, the director of University Housing, said that the maintenance request was filled.
“A work order to replace the light bulb was issued for this light, and the fluorescent tube was replaced. This is a routine work order, and the fixture worked properly when the mechanic left,” Russo said.
When contacted, May declined to comment.
“While the building was closed, assessments were done of similar fixtures throughout the building, and fortunately, it appears this was an isolated incident,” Russo said.
When the students on the affected floors returned to their rooms, they were surprised by what they saw.
“All of the furniture was pushed into the middle of the room because all of the moldings were removed. Certain bins and other things from the floor were put on top of our beds and desks, but I was able to find everything that I needed,” Condon, a freshman game art and production major, said.
However, there were certain items that he found that were not as he left them.
“My rug and some shoes were soaked, but the most unfortunate loss was my portfolio. A lot of my work and supplies were ruined, including work I was doing for class,” he added.
Houpt fared a little better.
“My room was basically unaffected except for a small puddle right inside, and all my things were fine,” he said. “Drexel has not offered any compensation, which is accurate in relation to my lack of damages.”
Sabrina Douglas, a freshman nursing major who lived on the eighth floor, also experienced similar minimal damage.
“I only went in my room Tuesday, and although I was directly underneath the flood, there was extremely minimal visible ceiling damage. However, I have learned that Drexel Housing went in and dismantled our rooms, so I have no idea what state they left it in. I am not allowed in until Saturday,” she said.
Staff from University Housing checked the other University City residence halls for open spaces in rooms before issuing emails to Millennium students and students in other residence halls that had open spaces in their rooms or suites announcing that a displaced resident might be temporarily added to their living assignment.
Condon was later relocated to a room in Towers Hall with an empty bed.
“I had no say in where I was being moved, but I also don’t see how it would make sense, in the midst of all of this chaos, to take the time to distribute a housing survey,” he said.
John Grillo, a freshman biomedical engineer on the seventh floor who was moved into Kelly Hall, felt the same way.
“It sucks that I had to leave my floormates, but at the same time I couldn’t live in a room where mold might end up growing in the walls,” he said.
However, Houpt, who was moved into Race Hall with some other students on his floor, was less pleased about the terms of the new arrangement.
“We had absolutely zero say regarding our new housing assignments, which, for the most part, made absolutely no sense, in that the majority of people were not placed with their current roommate but with another person from the floor,” he said.
Millennium residents and students in other residences were notified May 2 in an email from University Housing that the assignments would be permanent for the remainder of the spring term.
The follow-up email said that the contractors and staff from University Facilities determined that there was so much water damage behind the walls of rooms on the affected floors that the work had to be extended.
Displaced students were able to stop by Millennium Hall from 7 to 9 p.m. May 2 to gather some essential items. They will be able to move out all of their belongings May 5 during a move-out process where University staff and professional movers will be on hand to assist the students and provide them with carts and packing supplies, such as boxes and tape, if necessary.
Students in the rooms located below the seventh floor will be able to stay in the hall, but the floors will be periodically checked for water damage while the affected floors are repaired.
“Treatment is continuing on schedule, and our Environmental Health and Safety team is closely monitoring progress,” he said.
According to Russo, the drying process of the wall and flooring materials will last several days, and any that remain wet will be removed and replaced.
Students who were directly or indirectly affected have had a wide range of reactions to the events that unfolded after the incident.
“It’s not every day that there is a fire causing three floors to be damaged, and based on this spontaneity I would say Drexel did OK,” Condon said.
Grillo also did not blame Drexel. “The fire system did what it was made to do, and now we have to deal with the consequences of it,” he said.
He added, “There isn’t a better way that I can come up with to remove the water in the walls except to keep drying them and possibly replace the walls, neither of which can be done while we are living in the rooms.”
“In any crisis situation, University staff rely on the expertise of our on-campus partners and the cooperation of the student population to quickly identify the issue, ensure its containment and work to resolution,” Russo said.
However, other students feel differently.
“We are confused and feel homeless and like we have been ‘shafted.’ I know that my floor and the ninth floor were incredibly close, but the University seems to not care at all about splitting up these close bonds or helping us through this difficult time,” Douglas said, though she did mention that her RA recommended counselors to be used for support.
According to Russo, the students will be not charged extra for the move.
“Students who move to a traditional residence hall such as Myers Hall, Kelly Hall or Towers Hall will be prorated and charged the rate for that residence hall. Students who move to a suite-style residence hall, on the other hand, will still be charged the Millennium Hall rate,” he said.