Jefferson Hall flooding prompts evacuation, relocation of students

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Basement flooding displaces residents for a week, mobilizes dorm renovation, leads to insurance claims. COURTESY IMAGE / WM.EDU

The evening of Saturday, Feb. 1, Mazie Doss’s ’22 roommate walked out of her first-floor room in Jefferson Hall for a quick drink of water from the hall’s drinking fountain. After opening her door, she realized that water was closer than she thought, as liquid two inches deep seeped in from the hallway and surrounded her ankles.

Jefferson’s flooding last week prompted the evacuation of students in basement rooms and in some first-floor rooms. Doss, one of the few students on the first floor who was not relocated, said that fans and renovation equipment were brought into the building soon after the flooding. Additionally, Doss said that the College of William and Mary contracted RME Events, an external security provider, to monitor Jefferson throughout the recovery process.

According to Doss, the staffers were contracted to ensure that no one entered Jefferson illicitly to steal property from the abandoned rooms in the basement and on the first floor. Doss said staffers did not appear to have a consistent protocol for identifying Jefferson residents, meaning that she had to frequently justify her behavior to them while continuing to reside in Jefferson. Eventually, one event staffer was stationed just outside Doss’s door.

“At one point, there was one stationed directly outside my door that I had to talk to every time I wanted to enter and exit, including when I was going to shower or going to the bathroom,” Doss said. “It didn’t matter when, they were always there.”

Doss said she was startled by the security personnel’s presence in Jefferson.

“The first day they were there, I did not know, so I came into my door and was trying to change clothes, and then I heard really loud banging so I put my clothes back on, opened the door and there was an events person asking me ‘what’s my name’”, Doss said. “… It was kind of alarming.”

While Doss was grateful for not having to relocate last week, she said she was disappointed in the College’s efforts to maintain a sense of normalcy for individuals left on Jefferson’s first floor. As recovery equipment was left in front of her door, Doss felt that her continued residence in Jefferson felt like an oversight, and that the College had essentially forgotten that a few students were still actively living on the first floor.

“I really feel like because I wasn’t evacuated, I was an oversight,” Doss said. “… It just would have been nice to know what I could expect, and what the timeline was for me … they didn’t come out with that information until Thursday, and they were like, ‘if you live there, just don’t get in the way.’”

A floor below Doss, Ansh Patel ’22 occupied a basement room in Jefferson before he was relocated to Dawson Hall last Monday. He moved across Old Campus from Jefferson to Dawson around 6 p.m. Feb. 3, after receiving an email from the College earlier that afternoon about his impending evacuation. Patel said he was fortunate to be moved to Dawson, since other students were temporarily moved to more distant locations like Richmond Hall and the Ludwell Apartments.

While he was satisfied by the College’s notifications and updates in the days following his temporary move, Patel expressed his frustration that it took over a day for College officials to reach out to Jefferson residents directly following the flood, especially considering students’ varied workloads throughout the semester.

“We didn’t get any formal notification until Monday around two,” Patel said. “… If they had done it maybe a day earlier, then people could have moved out before the week, and they could have adjusted. For me, it wasn’t as bad, since I didn’t have work, but I can only imagine if someone had tests and assignments, moving out of your room is a big time commitment.”

Kathleen Chellman ‘22 echoed Patel’s irritation with the College’s initial delay in contacting Jefferson residents, and said that there were limited options for basement residents immediately after the flooding took place. Chellman said her roommate woke up to the flood and saw their room covered with water, causing them to leave Jefferson and find alternative lodging on their own for the rest of the night.

“We were just told to leave and find somewhere to stay for the night, and we returned on Sunday to the mess,” Chellman said in an email.

Some basement rooms continued to flood throughout the night of Feb. 1, including MacKayla Gilmore ‘22’s room, which suffered water damage extensive enough that it affected her laptop and other belongings left on the floor. After originally being evacuated to Ludwell, Gilmore requested a transfer to Hardy Hall, where her frustration with the situation led her to craft plans for a permanent move out of Jefferson to another dormitory on campus.

“I know a good chunk of residents are trying to get placed in their temporary locations for the rest of the semester,” Gilmore said in an email. “I am moving into Barrett with a friend and will not be returning to jbase.”

Residence halls aside, Gilmore is especially concerned about the process for repairing her damaged laptop. The College has given clear instructions in emails to Jefferson residents for how students can receive compensation for damaged property through renter’s insurance, which parents often cover for students. However, Gilmore is not satisfied with the College’s plan given her reluctance to ask her parents for financial assistance.

“I was not very satisfied with how they dealt with damages, because I do not have a close relationship with my parents, so I will likely have to pay for my laptop damages myself,” Gilmore said.

“I was not very satisfied with how they dealt with damages, because I do not have a close relationship with my parents, so I will likely have to pay for my laptop damages myself,” Gilmore said.

The degree to which water affected Jefferson basement rooms and damaged property was somewhat dependent on their distance from the bathroom, where a burst toilet — popularized in a “Swampy Memes for Twampy Memes” video post — appeared liable for the flooding.

Suzanne Cole ’22, who was evacuated to Old Dominion Hall, said that her basement room was far away enough from the bathroom that it suffered minimal damage. However, since a small puddle of water made it into her room, she was evacuated and the room’s baseboard as well as a portion of its drywall were removed.

Cole said she was pleased with the College’s handling of the situation.

“Communication with the College was surprisingly very smooth,” Cole said in a written statement. “… I got a lot more information than I expected considering how non-transparent W&M is about construction projects.”

Other Jefferson residents shared Cole’s positive response, saying that the College tried its best to address flooding-related issues in a timely fashion. Sabrina El Shanti ’22 was not evacuated and stayed in Jefferson. Despite the hassle, she appreciated College employees’ efforts to make the residence hall fully operational again.

“Everyone has been working very hard since the flooding started,” El Shanti said in an email. “The Area Director and facilities workers were there the night of flooding until around 4 a.m. cleaning up the water, and the next day professionals were on site and have been there every day working from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. They have been working to stay on top of the water damage to prevent mold and any other negative outcomes from happening.”

As of Monday, Feb. 10, College spokesperson Suzanne Clavet said all evacuated students have been returned to Jefferson and that contractors will complete working in the building by the end of the week.

“The work on all of the student rooms in Jefferson is completed,” Clavet said in an email. “The students who were temporarily relocated started moving back in today around noon.