The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Life gets steamy in Arrington Hall, students displaced

4 min read
Students were evacuated from Arrington hall when the fire alarm went off in on Monday, Jan. 27 at approximately 10:15 a.m. due to a steam leak

As residents on the first floor exited their rooms, they saw steam rising to the ceiling in the hallway. After it was determined that the steam was coming from the mechanical room and it was safe for residents to return to their rooms, students could re-enter the building.

One of the rooms on the first floor is located above the leaking pipe. The heat from the steam warmed the floor, making it hot enough to burn students’ feet. It was decided that it was too dangerous for the residents in that room to remain there. The two residents were assigned a room in the UMW apartments.

Later in the afternoon, the fire alarm went off again as the steam entered the hall with increased intensity. At this point, it was clear that all of the students living on the first floor would not be able to return to their rooms while the repairs were taking place.

According to John Wiltenmuth, associate vice president of facilities services, steam leaked foam the mechanical room on the first floor and activated the fire sprinkler.

“Both a steam supply line and a condensate return line in the branch tunnel to Arrington Hall developed holes,” Wiltenmuth said.

The steam leak created unlivable conditions on the first floor, causing the temperature in the hall to rise above 100 degrees. After the fire sprinkler was activated, the hall flooded and boiling hot water dripped from the ceiling. The steam thickened to the point that people in the hall could not see more than a few inches before them.

According to Wiltenmuth, steam and water also damaged the controls to Arrington’s HVAC. However, no rooms or personal belongings were damaged.

Chris Porter, director of residence life, worked to find alternate housing for the twenty-four residents that were unable to return to their rooms on the first floor. Porter assigned students to rooms in Eagle Landing so they could be close to Arrington.

Out of the 24 students, approximately 14 chose to make their own living arrangements, such as staying with friends, instead of using the room assigned to them.

“This was one of the easiest relocations of a group of students that I have ever done, and I really attribute that to the fact that the students were just incredibly cooperative [and] understood that this was something completely out of our control,” Porter said.

According to Porter, the students from the first floor handled the situation well. They waited in Alvey Hall’s lobby to receive updates about if and when they would be able to return to their rooms and gather some of their belongings.
Many of the students had assignments and work, but since all of their belongings were in their rooms, they were unable to prepare for them. They waited calmly, however, understanding that the administration was working to make it possible for them to enter their rooms for a short time.

“I think it’s one of those situations where everybody knows there was nothing we could have done to prevent it, but, after it happened, what we needed to do was to make sure that everybody was as informed and comfortable as possible, and that’s what I hope we did,” said Porter.

When the conditions in the hall improved enough for residents to safely enter their rooms, they were allowed to do a grab and go around 5:45 p.m. Each resident received an orange recycling bag to place their belongings in. They were allowed five minutes to get essential items for one day.

Resident assistants made sure the students who were displaced from their rooms were comfortable while they waited for housing assignments. They gave the residents frequent updates.

“It really showed how well the RAs are trained. They handled it very well,” said sophomore Cat Oliver.

Resident assistants took turns standing by the doors of the first floor to inform returning Arrington residents of the evacuation. Kathy Taylor, resident assistant of the first floor of Arrington, was also displaced from her room. While waiting for information, Taylor worked to keep her residents updated and comfortable.

“The Alvey-Arrington Staff really went above and beyond making sure that they were ready to do all kinds of things. They were all ready to do anything that was needed,” Porter said.

According to Wiltenmuth, both UMW Facilities Services and UMW’s contract maintenance vendor, American Combustion, Inc., worked to complete the repairs. Repairs went on throughout the night, taking approximately 11 hours. On Tuesday morning the fire systems were also repaired.

“Repairs to the digital control systems are still in process. Some older parts are no longer available and the use of newer parts will require modifications to the system. Currently the system is operating in a manual mode,” said Wiltenmuth.

Tests were run before notifying students that it was safe for them to return to their rooms. All residents were allowed to go back to their rooms at noon on Tuesday.

“It was a long two days with moving in and out, and two fire drills, but the rooms they gave us in Eagle were nice,” said sophomore Arrington resident Robyn Ellis.

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