77 Warren Wilson students displaced after burst pipes

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
After burst pipes the week of Christmas due to freezing temperatures, 77 Warren Wilson College students were moved to either other on-campus housing or off-campus at Blue Ridge Assembly.

The extreme cold temperatures that plagued the area the week of Christmas caused pipes to freeze and burst in two Warren Wilson College residence halls.

In a Jan. 6 email to students, Interim President Bill Christy said that pipes froze and burst at approximately 1 a.m. on Dec. 24 in residence hall Village A.

In the email, Christy said the public safety team was able to “quickly” arrive at the scene and turn off the water, but not before it damaged the fire panel system in the building, as well as sprinklers. The email said two apartments had water damage from the sprinklers.

The next day, Village B also had water leaks, according to the email. Christy said the students and staff in both buildings were relocated on campus while damages were assessed.

Christy said because it was a holiday weekend, it took “several days” before a full assessment of the damage could be done. Once completed, it was discovered that Village B would need to have several areas of the sprinkler system replaced. In his email, Christy said the hope is for this work to be completed by March 1.

In Village A, Christy called the damage “more severe” with the same work needed to be done as Village B, but that Village A also had a damaged fire panel. He said the needed equipment is being affected by supply chain delays and Village A will likely be “unlivable for the entire semester.”

In all, 77 students were displaced by these burst pipes.

One of these students, Harley Woods, said she was frustrated with the slow communication during the situation.

“They need to be communicating with us throughout the whole process of finding out information instead of just telling us after the fact,” Woods said. “It’s more frightening not to know anything than it is to have some of the information.”

Christy told Black Mountain News that Warren Wilson College was holding back communicating to students until the school had all the information possible. Once the school had that information, Christy said the school sent the email within a day.

“I know there’s been frustrations about that,” Christy said. “Hopefully people will understand that we’re doing our best and that we’re trying to be fair and equitable. We don’t want to treat somebody separately because they yelled the loudest or didn’t yell at all.”

In order to house all displaced students, Warren Wilson College had to look off-campus to Blue Ridge Assembly for assistance housing those who still wished to be provided housing by the school.

Christy said priority was given to students with emotional support animals, students without cars and students who had early morning shifts on the farm for on-campus housing. Those who did not fit into these categories would be more than likely placed at Blue Ridge Assembly.

“We have developed and worked really hard on coming up with a system that’s fair and equitable to as many as we can,” Christy said. “There’s a lot of competing needs amongst the students, and desires.”  

Woods, who previously had a single room and has a cat, said she was frustrated with finding housing as she was unsure if she would be able to keep her single room, which she had for medical reasons.

“I was trying to figure out if there was a way that they could honor my medical single paperwork and I was looking at rooms off campus and trying to figure out if it was a better option for me to just move,” Woods said. “I ended up in one of the other suite dorms with a roommate with people that I don’t really know.”

Warren Wilson College Director of Communications Mary Bates said all students who had single rooms in Villages were offered a single room at Blue Ridge Assembly.

Because she has a cat, Woods was unable to take the room at Blue Ridge Assembly and was paired with a roommate in a suite-style dorm. She said she is apprehensive about the arrangement as there are other animals also living in the space and it will take a while for her and her cat to adjust.

Christy said he understands the frustration of everyone involved and hopes for understanding as the school works through the issues.

“I know it’s stressful for students and families,” Christy said. “It is stressful for the employees at Warren Wilson who are having to deal with this. It certainly wasn’t anything we anticipated. … Some students want everything solved yesterday and the problem is these are very complicated issues.”