“Oh crap. You’re moving.” These were the words that alerted sophomore Ben Stephens who previously lived in Rivers Residence Hall of the urgent situation on Thursday evening that required the entire third floor of Rutledge Rivers to evacuate.
An emergency meeting was called Thursday, Sept. 12 at 5:30 p.m. for all students living at Rivers Residence Hall, the Honors on-campus dorm. At this meeting the residents of both wings of the dorms, Buist Hall and Rutledge Hall, were alerted of structural problems in the building, requiring immediate evacuation of the third floor of Rutledge.
A moving truck awaited students after they returned from the meeting. None of the third floor residents slept in their beds Thursday night. Some were moved to vacant rooms in other dorms, and twelve students were relocated to the Hampton Inn on Meeting Street.
The 40-year-old dorm has had problems with condensation in the ceilings for several months now. “Part of my roof was actually sagging down and we’ve had a trashcan there to catch water ever since day one,” Stephens said.
Bravada Hill, a freshman living in room 208 of Rutledge, experienced an even more extreme situation when a small part of her ceiling fell in. “The ceiling fell down the first night we moved in. I was here. It came down on my toe,” she said. “There’s a lot of mold in [the hole].”
These conditions had been uncomfortable for some time but were not considered dangerous until recently. The condensation worsened dramatically and the structural integrity of the ceiling, especially on the third floor of Rutledge, became an immediate concern.
Additional concerns were raised regarding the possible release of asbestos if the ceiling collapsed. Although asbestos is now known as a dangerous construction material, it was commonly used when Rivers was built. When asbestos is sealed, the thin fibers do not pose any threat to inhabitants, but when released, they have been known to cause lung problems when inhaled over a long period of time. If the third floor ceiling were to cave in, it is possible that asbestos would be released into the building.
The College of Charleston Executive Staff met Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. to make decisions concerning the possibility of evacuation. The 5:30 emergency meeting involving all residents immediately followed.
“Everything we know, we told everyone at that meeting,” said Brian McGee, Chief of Staff in the Office of the President. “Decisions were made a matter of hours beforehand.”
The third floor of Rutledge is now completely vacant. The other three floors in Rutledge will be evacuated in the next two weeks. There is also a very high likelihood that the residents of Buist Hall will also be evacuated. Together, there are almost 200 students that the school must now find new homes for.
As mentioned in President Benson’s letter sent by email yesterday, the dorms will likely be closed for the remainder of the academic school year.
McGee gave a message to the Rivers residents in a recent interview. He said, “We are very sorry that anyone is having to move. We are doing everything to keep you safe. We promise you will have a good place to live. You will have transportation to campus [if needed], and have the same great [college] experience.”
McGee also said that the staff is doing the best they can to keep suitemates together, but of course, in a situation such as this, nothing can be assured. He said, “You are guaranteed housing if you had a [previous] contract with Residence Life. If someone comes to us and says, ‘I just can’t do this,’ we will of course let them out of their contract. We would rather be able to keep everyone together, but of course we understand. We want to give people every choice we can give them.”
Reactions to the move have been mixed. Ben Stephens is one of the students relocated to the Hampton Inn. “I get a pool, free continental breakfast, someone gets to clean my room for me everyday. And I bet they have better WiFi,” he said. He, among other students, have taken a positive attitude toward the situation.
Others have been more worried. Alyssa Soucy, a freshman and roommate of Bravada Hill, said, “I’m really homesick and we might get split up… We’re joking that we’re homeless, but we practically are.”
Most students are also worried about losing the community that Rivers afforded. Many living in Rivers had lived with the same group of people for two years. Tears were shed at the possibility of having to say goodbye.
Shock and disbelief are rampant. But one positive occurrence that has arisen out of the move is how the students and faculty seem to
have banded together to cope with their new circumstances. Dean of the Honors College, Trisha Folds-Bennett, was running through the halls of Rivers in shorts and a t-shirt until 11:30 last night, helping the third floor students pack up their belongings. Friends from each floor came together to offer hugs and to help move boxes.
People who never had talked before are now congregating in the halls, commiserating over their moving woes and trying to put their shock at loosing their home into words.
“I’ve never been more proud of the Honors College than I was last night [during the meeting],” McGee said. “[They] are responding well to this new adversity… This is part of our history. We as a school have survived the Civil War and earthquakes. This is a continuation of the story of College of Charleston.”
“There will be no tent city on the Cistern Yard,” McGee said. That much, at least, can be guaranteed.
Additional reporting by Olivia Cohen and Sarah Sheafer