Fourteen residents of Mansell house found themselves faced with a problem right before returning to campus in mid-January. They were involuntarily moved to new room assignments due to water and gas leaks that occurred in the building over winter break.
It was only a few days before returning to campus that residents were notified of the situation. They were then assigned their new rooms and movers were hired to move their things.
“It was pretty sucky considering it was approximately three days before we got back to school,” said Bobby Marcus (’18), who now lives in Hill House. Fellow Mansell resident Auden Hargrove (’17), who now lives in Andrews Court and is also the resident advisor of Lower Mead Way, was “surprised and frustrated by the very little information given [at first]. It left a lot to the imagination.”
The affected students were given more information once they returned to campus at a meeting with Residence Life on January 17. It was at this meeting that they finally learned that not only was there a water leak, but there had been two gas leaks as well.
According to assistant vice president of facilities Maureen Gallagher, the heat went out in the house on January 10, causing pipes to burst in the attic. The water went down to the room under the attic, and to the kitchen, located under that room. It was only when the fire department was notified and investigated the building that they also found two gas leaks present. The gas leaks were repaired but the extensive water damage would take more time to fix. Maintenance cleaned the water and the school called a licensed mold-remediation contractor to dry the house with special air heaters known as desiccants. An environmental hygienist was called to collect wall samples, test quality of air, and determine damage levels.
Not only did this work affect the residents of Mansell, but the neighboring Mead Way houses, Perkins and Brebner, lost wifi connection as a result of the power being cut in order to continue work on the house. The wireless router was held in the Mansell basements and the neighboring students were left without internet for almost two weeks.
Some Mansell residents say the moving process could have gone more smoothly. Grether and Marcus say they lost no belongings, the same could not be said for others. “So much of my stuff is missing. A lot of weird things. Of course posters, art, books were damaged but there were things like contacts, my hairbrush, and my retainers,” said Hargrove. The students were allowed to enter for roughly 20 minutes to collect belongings that remained in common areas but apart from that, they were not allowed back in. On this, Marcus reflected, “ I want to go back home but that’s just not possible.”
Understandably, the situation called for the removal of all students in the house as it is still being monitored before construction can start. However due to the sudden nature of the incident, students were reassigned to whatever housing was available. Grether and Marcus who had previously doubled in Mansell are now living in a triple in Hill House. This displacement caused frustration similar to during the beginning of the school year, when an unusually high student population forced the school to covert doubles to triples all over campus, and house a small group of students in the Hyatt hotel at the Cross County shopping center.
The triple Grether and Marcus were placed in was originally a double. The apartment they live in is also substance free and quiet housing. On this issue, Marcus said, “We are not either, yet we have to comply with rules we don’t agree with.” Despite being unhappy with this aspect of their new housing, Grether said he didn’t want to raise a fuss because, being on a meal plan where he has to cook many of his meals, at least both he and Marcus are lucky enough to still have a kitchen.
However, not everyone reassigned from Mansell was as fortunate. Some students that were on meal plan 5, which offers 16 swipes and 375 units of meal money a semester, were placed in living situations where a kitchen is much less accessible. Hargrove mentioned that some advisees had these issues but when she asked if it was possible to increase their meal plans as a form of compensation, the school did not respond to her email. Although the overcrowding cannot be helped at this point, she said, it should be possible to work something out in regards to food.
Will it be possible for these students to ever use the kitchen in Mansell again? The house is currently awaiting approval to be worked on, so Gallagher says there is no certainty. She said, “We don’t want to set false expectations of when they can come back.”
As of right now, everything with high levels of moisture must be removed: the attic, kitchen, some wood flooring, and the walls and ceilings of the room directly affected by the water leak. Foregoing the waiting period of clearance, when asked about an estimation of how long it would potentially take to fix all this, Gallagher said that because of the amount of work to be done, possibly a month. With all the trouble coming out of this situation, one might wonder, what are the chances this can happen again in another building on campus?
Gallagher states that the likelihood of a Mansell-like incident occurring again is uncertain. “A house losing heat and having a pipe break and the Yonkers Fire Dept detecting a gas leak at that same site is highly unusual. This situation took place over winter break when there was no one living in the house. Normally when a building is occupied and occupants feel cold someone informs us immediately.”
As for regular inspections, there are no “structured inspections or checklist,” but Gallagher said that maintenance periodically checks the buildings over break. She added that it’s best to report any unexpected occurrences or discomforts to the school so they can investigate the situation. But does a situation like this call for having a regular system of inspection put in place?
Donna Karimi '17