An exploded sprinkler unleashed significant flooding throughout the fifth floor of the 36th Street dormitory at the outset of the holiday break. Though not of biblical proportions, the damage to students’ personal belongings and to the building’s carpeting, floorboards and walls was substantial. It has necessitated the replacement of carpeting in all hallways, and in fourteen of the twenty-four single rooms on the floor.
The sprinkler burst in a student’s room on the morning of Fri. Sept. 30th. From another room a few doors down, one student recalled suddenly hearing a loud gush of water. “The water was spreading to our rooms,” she recalled. “The response of security was fast—a whole group of them came up right away.” Though she felt that they originally seemed unsure of how to proceed, they managed to figure out how to turn off the sprinkler within “about ten or fifteen minutes, maybe less.” Video footage and pictures taken by other witnesses of the flood have depicted puddles of water pooling on the carpets.
Because many residents had already departed for break, most were first informed of the flood that afternoon via mass email by the Office of Student Affairs, though particularly affected students were first contacted privately. The email indicated that the carpets would need to be cleaned, though it was later determined that the degree of moisture damage necessitated the replacement of much of the carpeting.
Housing worked with an outside contractor to coordinate the cleaning of walls and the replacement of carpeting while students were still away. The process was initiated early to inhibit mold growth and ensure that residents returned to livable spaces. To begin the repairs, residents’ personal belongings and furniture had to be removed from their rooms, but most had already left by the time the need for a nearly floor-wide carpet replacement was recognized. Overseen and aided by Rebecca Ciment, the Assistant Director of the Office of Housing and Residence Life, groups of RAs and GAs stepped in to bag and store students’ loose belongings. Ciment and the GAs personally returned all belongings to the rooms at the conclusion of Shmini Atzeret, in time for students’ return to campus later that night.
The university has committed to reimbursing students for any related laundry costs or moisture damage to personal property. Ciment also explained that “due to the need to unplug and move the refrigerators to dry locations, any significant loss of refrigerator contents will also be reimbursed.” So far, at least two residents have identified hundreds of dollars’ worth of water damage to their belongings.
As the situation has unfolded, residents have received updates via email. Communications subsequent to the Office of Student Affairs’ first email have come from Housing. Following Rosh Hashana, residents still present in the dorm were requested to contact Housing to facilitate temporary accommodations elsewhere on campus.
Residents were also invited to contact Housing with any further questions, but some felt that the amount of information and frequency of communication that they initially received was insufficient. This frustration heightened after notification of the emergency packing process. Though it was undeniably helpful and necessary, the fact that students were informed post factum felt intrusive and insensitive to some of those who call their private room home. Other residents, however, were content with Housing’s communication throughout the repair process, particularly given the flood’s timing in the midst of the holidays.
“For those who were still in the building when the incident occurred, it was a pretty chaotic and nerve wracking experience,” said Gabriella Shankman. “We didn’t know what would be destroyed, and it was a major inconvenience for anyone who had to pack up and go home or still had class to run to. Over the holiday, however, the Housing department was in touch with us constantly about what was damaged, whose rooms were affected, promises of compensation and instructions as to what we should expect when we returned. They were also quick to respond to any inquiries we had about the state of our rooms and personal belongings. I’m very grateful that security, the janitorial staff, and the rest of the Housing department did an excellent job of keeping us informed throughout the whole process and putting our rooms back in order.”
Many other residents shared her tone of gratitude towards Housing, and appreciated the department’s work under the pressures of the clock and student anxiety. “I thought they did as good a job as anyone could have… they didn’t have any other choice but to move all our things,” said Chava Baum, who pointed out that “if we didn’t live in a dorm, we definitely wouldn’t have gotten reimbursed for any damaged materials.”
As of Mon. Oct. 31st, residents with damages are still waiting for Housing to confirm their claims and outline the reimbursement process. The way that Housing communicates with students during this final stage of follow-up may be the most conclusive determinant of their flood-handling legacy. For now, students will continue to unpack their dry belongings, plug in their mini-fridges and resettle into their freshly carpeted dorms.