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Winter storm severely damages student residences

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Several student residences, both on and off campus, were destroyed after a winter storm blasted through the Midwest over the Christmas holiday, leaving behind major water damage. At College Park, an apartment complex off campus, eight apartments were nearly ruined after pipes burst above the ceilings, causing a collapse, said Paramount Management property manager Patty Russwurm. She estimated the collapse took place Dec. 30, but was unsure about the exact date.Many students turned off their heat over the break, causing pipes to freeze, Russwurm said. When the weather warmed up, the pipes burst and caused over $100,000 in water damage to the apartments. Senior Connor O’Keefe, who lives in one of the damaged apartments, said his entire ceiling had to be replaced.”Dry wall and plaster were all over the furniture. Our TV was destroyed and the wood floor had to be replaced,” he said. The tenants are responsible for covering the cost of the damage, Russworm said.Russwurm said that College Park housing contracts explicitly state that tenants are not to turn the thermostat below 58 degrees because the pipes could freeze. “If I could do it over again I would have knocked on every door to remind them that they cannot turn their heat off,” Russwurm said. A huge effort has been put forth to return the apartments to a livable condition since the ceilings collapsed.”It has been very difficult to try to get students back in to their apartments. We have had contractors, cleaning crews, disaster relief agencies, all working 24/7 to repair the damage,” said Russwurm.Six of the eight damaged apartments were repaired before classes resumed on Monday, she said. New carpet and wood floors are still being installed in the remaining two apartments. “The students have been absolutely helpful during this. They feel displaced and it is hard to study and focus without your apartment to live in” said Russwurm.O’Keefe, on the other hand, expressed disappointment with how Paramount Management has handled the problem. “They have been sort of sleazy with the whole situation. First they told us that we were going to have to pay for the damage,” O’Keefe said. “Then they said that our owner’s insurance would cover it.”Kristin Boyd, whose room at the complex remains unlivable, believes that much of the excessive water damage could have been avoided had students been informed about the ceiling collapse earlier.”If management had handled this in a more professional manner, we would not be in the situation we are in right now,” she said. “I am furious they did not tell us earlier. By the time we got there, there was a lot of damage that could have been avoided.”O’Keefe has heard rumors about possible lawsuits against students and has consequently sought legal advice. “We have heard that a lawsuit is possible so we are contacting lawyers to help us with the situation,” he said. But Russwurm insisted that College Park would not consider taking legal action, saying that when pipes freeze it is “an act of God.””No. We will not be filing any lawsuits,” she said.The winter storm also left a dorm room in Alumni Hall unlivable. A fan above the third floor room, occupied by junior Patrick Nagorski and sophomore Ryan Burke, was responsible for the water damage, said Alumni Hall Rector Father George Rozum. The fan was installed this past summer to help circulate air from bathrooms on the south side of the building. It was not until massive amounts of snow arrived during Christmas break that the University discovered that – instead of filtering and re-circulating air from the bathrooms – the fan was pulling in fresh air. When snow gathered on the roof, it was pulled in as well. The snow eventually melted, soaking the ceiling above room 353 until it partially collapsed. Both mattresses in the room were destroyed. The computers, sheltered by lofted beds, were left undamaged. Notre Dame maintenance discovered the problem early enough to prevent the situation from escalating. Rozum was able to warn Burke and Nagorski before they returned, allowing them time to find living arrangements.”I called them during break to tell them the news. I wanted to prepare them,” he said.Due to the sour smell of soaked furniture and the non-existent ceiling, Burke and Nagorski will be living in other rooms for the next few weeks. Despite the inconvenience, the students have maintained a positive attitude, according to Rozum. “Both boys have been very, very understanding about the whole matter,” he said.The University has agreed to cover all expenses associated with the damaged room, Rozum said.

Mmalone3@nd.edu