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HCA Maintenance Problems Dampen Start of Semester

For first years and upperclassmen alike, living in the apartments is often framed as a privilege. Residents have access to kitchens with microwaves and refrigerators, individual bathrooms shared by very few people, and often large single rooms. With all those benefits, it doesn’t make sense that one would feel unlucky to be living in the apartments. However, only three weeks into this semester, serious maintenance issues in many of the apartments have managed to make their residents feel this way.

Probably the most shocking apartment mishap this semester occurred on Sunday, February 21 in Apartment 46. Issues started to appear for resident Tien Vu ’23 the previous night, when she noticed two leaks in her ceiling. Vu recounted calling Campus Safety and being told that they would look into it. However, they didn’t approach the issue with much urgency.

In an email, Vu noted that she “waited for another two hours, and two more new leaks appeared and cracks started appearing” in her ceiling. She added that by that time, she already had multiple buckets of water in her room as a result of the leaks. After calling Campus Safety again, and still receiving a very vague response, Vu decided that she would wait until the next day to call for a third time.

Early the next morning, Vu got a rude awakening: “Around 8 a.m… the water started dripping faster and… flowing heavier, pouring onto my study table and cabinet shelves. I got up, saw the ceiling ominously bulging and cracking, and backed up. I started to dial Campus Safety again just as the ceiling caved in.”

Vu expressed that “the rest of the day felt like a blur,” because, although she was fortunate not to be injured, many of her furniture and belongings got soaked or damaged by the pieces which fell from the ceiling. She spent Sunday moving her undamaged belongings into temporary housing, where she has been living since the incident. She noted that her suitemates were also forced out of their apartment because of their proximity to the damage. 

Although Vu and her suitemates are now safe and settled in temporary housing, the effects of the event have in no way faded. Vu indicated that the past week has been very stressful for them: “It was awful timing because it was the first week of classes, and I lost many things or didn’t have access to them,” she said. “Neither I nor my suitemates are on the meal plan, and we’re all FGLI [first generation/low-income] students.”

A little over a week before HCA 46 saw part of its ceiling cave in, both HCA 34 and HCA 38 experienced issues of their own. Around 2 a.m. on Friday, February 12 (the night prior to the first day of classes), residents in both of these apartments awoke to alarms sounding in their common rooms. 

In HCA 38, residents were forced to evacuate for about an hour, according to Magdelena del Valle ‘24. Del Valle indicated that the incident did not have long-term consequences for her because she was only out of her apartment for about an hour, and nothing appeared to be wrong. However, “having to get out of [her] warm bed and into the cold from 2–3 a.m. the day before classes started was pretty infuriating at the time,” she noted.

While HCA 38 residents were returned to their rooms fairly quickly, the first-year residents next door in HCA 34 were not so lucky. One of the carbon monoxide alarms in Apartment 34 began going off at around 2 a.m. on the same night. While a resident called Campus Safety, by the time they arrived, not one, but four carbon monoxide alarms were blaring in the building, prompting Campus Safety to call the fire department.

One of the HCA carbon monoxide detectors

After a short evaluation, the fire department and Campus Safety ordered an immediate evacuation: “It was extremely disorienting to wake up at 2 a.m… especially since it was my first night back on campus. I barely had time to pull on a sweater, and of course it was freezing cold outside,” said HCA 34 resident Bella Yin ‘24.

The HCA 34 students spent about an hour in the basement computer lab in HCA 30, doing their best, but struggling due to space limitations, to social distance. Eventually, Campus Safety told the students that their broken heaters had begun to leak carbon monoxide into the building. In other words, they would not be returning to their beds that night.

The next destination for the students of HCA 34 was the Campus Center. After about an hour or so of searching for water and attempting to nap despite the chaos, about two-thirds of the students were given guest rooms in the Campus Center. The rest were picked up in a bus, taken to HCA 34 to very quickly grab some belongings, and then brought to HCA 800 (one of the apartments set aside for quarantine). 

Some of the students were able to get a couple hours of sleep before classes began, but others were forced to attend their first classes on no sleep, as they were unable to fall asleep or were not given sheets in their new room to even attempt to do so. Yin emphasized that failing to fall back asleep because of the chaos resulted in “not an awesome start to the semester.” Residents of HCA 34 spent the entire weekend in temporary housing while facilities replaced the heaters in their building and aired out the carbon monoxide, and they returned on Monday, February 15.

These stories indicate that while the amenities of the apartments are definitely a privilege, many of these buildings have real problems. In addition to these three incidents, other apartment residents have suffered leaks in their ceilings as a result of the snowstorms and/or experienced broken or malfunctioning heaters. If all of this could go wrong in just three weeks, one is left to wonder what additional chaos the apartments have in store for their residents in the coming months.

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