Preston Vanlandingham was sitting in class when he saw a social media post of a pipe that had burst in a dorm hallway. He joked with his classmates about how hard it would be to clean up such a disaster — only to receive an e-mail two minutes later about the flooding of Moffat Hall, his dorm building.
Vanlandingham packed up his things and left to assess the damage. He’s among the approximately 100 Moffat Hall residents at Western Colorado University who were displaced by the flood on Oct. 31.
University officials say the flooding was the result of a frozen sprinkler pipe on the third floor of Moffat, which caused water pressure in the pipe to build. When ice in the pipe began to melt, the water flow was too forceful for the pipes to handle, causing them to burst in two places.
However, officials say they’re still unaware of how the pipes froze in the first place.
“On the morning of the flood, it was -13 degrees at my house and -7 in town,” said Shelley Jansen, Residence Life director at Western, when asked about the freezing. “It’s that time of year.”
At first, the damage was thought to be minimal. Residence Life believed they’d need a lot of towels to clean up the mess. But upon a more thorough assessment of the situation, they discovered that the insulation in the walls soaked up much of the water, causing damage to the drywall on either side of the insulation.
Because of this damage, the university has to tear out all the cabinetry in every dorm room and replace the lower half of all the drywall, according to Jansen.
Taking up new residence
Immediately after the flood, Residence Life assigned new housing to the students in Moffat, thinking the dorm would be repaired over the weekend. Now, they don’t think the dorm will be ready for move-in until June of next year, Jansen said.
With Moffat Hall offline for the foreseeable future, students are settling into new residences.
Each displaced student was given a permanent dorm assignment and began moving into that dorm room on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The entire student body was sent an e-mail warning that all empty beds, if not paid for, will be filled.
Students in residence halls at Western are given the option of paying about $400 extra a semester for a “single” room, while a double room is shared with a roommate. If a student paid for a double room, but lucked out and ended up with a single room, the extra bed in the room now belongs to a resident of Moffat Hall.
Some of the students displaced from Moffat ended up in a freshman dorm — despite Moffat Hall serving as a dorm for second-year students.
Still, many students who paid extra for a single room volunteered their extra bed to a Moffat refugee.
“There were two to five students who had single rooms and invited Moffat residents to stay with them,” said Jansen.
All students who paid for a single room but ended up with a roommate were reimbursed the difference, Jansen said.
‘We got pretty lucky’
While Residence Life provided dorms to all the displaced students, the university recently announced a change regarding the school’s two-year on-campus residency policy. Western typically requires all new students to live on campus for the first two years of their college career; however, Jansen said the policy will make exceptions for Moffat students so long as they revoke their housing contract before the end of the year.
The school also will provide students who decide to move off campus per-night reimbursement from the time they move out until the end of the semester, Jansen said.
Two weeks after the flood, Vanlandingham is settled in a new dorm with a new roommate in Robidoux Hall, located in the same complex as he lived previously. While he misses his old room, he says his new set up isn’t bad.
As far as losses, most of Vanlandingham’s school books were destroyed in the flood. Fortunately, the bookstore still had extra copies of those books. This opportunity was offered to all students, so long as they replaced their damaged books before Nov. 8.
Even with the replacement of books, Western is not liable for damages of student's personal belongings. All students living in the dorms signed a contract stating the institution is not liable for student’s personal items. In the event of a stolen item, the school would say the same thing.
“I don’t think any school within any type of insurance plan supports individual personal property,” said Jansen.
The Western Foundation has established a fund to help students whose belongings were damaged. Donations can be made at westernup.org.
Rylee Martin, another refugee, previously resided on the first floor of Moffat Hall. She says her biggest loss was her sense of home. She now lives in Robidoux Hall.
“I didn’t have any property damage,” said Martin, “but we had a strong community in Moffat. I don’t even know anyone here.”
Fortunately for Martin, she was able to keep her same dorm room set-up she had in Moffat. She and her roommate both have living accommodations with disability services. They were able to continue living with each other in the same suite in Robidoux.
“We got pretty lucky,” Martin said.
- Kinlee Whitney, Special to the Times