Sewage forces Hitchcock residents to evacuate

The damaged pipe clogged a sewage line connecting to the main sewage line, causing a series of back-ups that extended from the street all the way into Hitchcock basement. “Tree roots had grown into the clay sewer pipe near the road, causing a blockage resulting in the flood in the basement,” said Dan Campbell, assistant director of Physical Plant for operations. “[Physical Plant] worked at freeing up the clog through the day. By 4:00 Wednesday afternoon it was determined that the pipe would have to be excavated to find and repair the damaged section. Arrangements were made to perform the work the following morning.”

Campbell said that the pipe damage is the result of age. “It’s not that unusual for roots to create blockages. These lines were installed in the early ’20s,” he said. “Depending on how close trees are to [the] line, the lines can sometimes last for 20 years while others can last for 100. This line lasted closer to 100.”

Several residents noticed an unpleasant odor when they awoke Wednesday morning. Physical Plant closed the bathrooms early that morning to investigate the problem before determining later in the day that residents would have to be temporarily relocated.

Some students complained that Campus Police should not have confiscated items from their rooms while they were evacuated.

Alexa Lawson-Remer ’04 did not mind the inconvenience, but she resented the actions of the Campus Police. “The [pipe damage] wasn’t really all that big of a deal,” she said. “The only problem with any of it was that Campus Police exploited our inconvenience by searching rooms and confiscating property when they shouldn’t have.”

Chief of Police John Carter said that the police did not intend to infringe on students’ privacy during the search; they only wanted to ensure that all residents had left the dorm. “When we evacuated the building we evacuated for health and safety reasons,” said Carter. “It was imperative that people did not stay behind. We went from room to room to make sure everyone had left.”

It was during the search for residents that the police came across contraband. “[During our search,] we asked two students to leave,” said Carter. “When we came back to ensure that they had left … we found two kegs that were confiscated.”

Evacuated residents were asked to stay with friends. “In this instance we were trying to evacuate 32 people in such a short amount of time, we asked students to try to stay with friends,” said Dean of Residential Life Charri Boykin-East. “We, however, let students know that if they could not find a place to stay for the evening, we had a few rooms set aside at the Campus Police station. Those students who could not find a place to stay for the evening were encouraged to sign out a temporary key [for the room] from the Campus Police.”

Boykin-East explained that the relocation effort was especially difficult because of an existing housing crunch. This was the third major relocation this year. “We had to relocate some students because of a mold problem in their room, and then we had to relocate some students, who lived in Jenkins, due to a flooding problem,” said Boykin-East.

Boykin-East was also involved in informing and relocating residents. “I worked with the RC, dorm residents, Campus Police and the locksmith to try to inform students about what was going on and to identify rooms students could stay in for the evening,” said Boykin-East. “The RC and I went door-to-door. We talked with some of the students who were around. All were very cooperative.”

Crystal Bass ’04 was able to find a friend with whom she could stay. “Luckily, one of my pals has a futon,” she said.

Rashi De Stefano ’04, who stayed with a friend in Mayo-Smith House, would have preferred other accommodations. “Ideally Amherst would put us all in a hotel or something,” she said.

Hitchcock Resident Counselor (RC) Allison Aldrich ’04 said Boykin-East was available Wednesday afternoon to respond to residents’ questions and concerns. “Dean Boykin-East was very approachable,” said Aldrich.

Lisa Blumsack ’04 believes that residents did not receive enough notice about the evacuation. “The e-mail from [our RC] was sent at 7:15 [p.m. on Wednesday] … [that] left us with less than four hours to receive the e-mail and get out of the building,” she said. “Physical Plant could have communicated [the information] to us directly.”

De Stefano expressed similar sentiments. “[A resident] could have been out all day and not known what was happening, and then gotten back to a locked dorm,” she said.

Boykin-East thought that the response to the problem was quite good. “I believe [that] the RC, the students and members of the Physical Plant departments responded quickly and appropriately to the situation,” she said.

Several residents were appreciative of how the flood was handled. “The situation sucked, but it sucked for the shortest amount of time possible, considering that our basement was full of fecal matter,” said Dan Savage ’06.

Aldrich echoed that sentiment. “The residents of Hitchcock [are] � grateful to the Physical Plant for addressing the issue so quickly,” she said.

Lawson-Remer commended the way her RC handled the situation. “Most RCs don’t have to deal with stuff like that, but Allison … handled the entire situation perfectly,” she said.

Although residents were allowed to re-enter the building early Thursday morning to retrieve belongings, they were not permitted to use the bathrooms because they were still not working.

Some residents were not informed of the status of the plumbing. “Even when we were told that we could return to the dorm, there was no confirmation as to whether the plumbing and everything was all in order,” Bass explained.

By 4 p.m. last Thursday, water was restored and all the bathrooms were functioning. Residents were permitted to return to Hitchcock after 3:00 p.m. that afternoon.

While this problem can occur anywhere as the result of tree roots growing too close to sewage pipes, future Hitchcock residents may not have to suffer through this experience because the pipes will likely be replaced, according to Campbell. “We’ll probably be replacing those pipes this coming summer so that this does not happen again.”