Ari Saati, Editor-in-Chief
Matteson hall re-opened its doors this past Friday, Jan. 25, to the 175 residents it displaced following the fire.
“I can’t believe it only happened a week and a half ago, it’s felt so long,” said SUNY Oneonta junior, Christine Daigle, who now lives in Huntington hall. Daigle is among the 56 students given new housing assignments following the fire, unable to return to the charred third floor.
The fire, which engulfed a third floor bedroom on Jan. 16, is being attributed to a faulty surge protector. No one was hurt, with firefighters from Oneonta and surrounding counties promptly extinguishing the flames.
In the wake of the blaze, Resident Life was faced with the task of finding entirely new housing for the third floor students, while arranging temporary housing at the Holiday Inn for the remaining 119 residents. “We wanted to get the third floor into something permanent as soon as possible, because those were the ones that were going to be the most affected by what happened. They knew they couldn’t go back to their home, and we wanted to do everything we could to get them to a place where they would feel comfortable as soon as possible,” said Michele Luettger, director of Resident Life.
Students and resident advisors on the second, first and basement floors have been settling back into their rooms, some coming back to lingering reminders of the disaster. “We cleaned for six hours…There was a little bit of soot everywhere and a lot of water damage,” said Oneonta junior, Alasa Maynard, whose room is directly under the suite that housed the blaze.
Reminders of the disaster still remain in the dormitory building, with a persistent smoke aroma and signs in every stairwell forbidding access to the third floor, which is undergoing reconstruction to secure it’s fall 2013 re-opening.
The magnitude of the financial burden this has placed on the college is still undisclosed.
The third floor’s ceiling has been entirely removed along with the suite that contained the fire, however the damage to adjacent rooms is minimal thanks to the thick dormitory doors holding back excessive soot and smoke damage. The now gutted suite, in which the blaze broke out, will lay the groundwork for an entirely new design that before was reserved for the MacDuff renovation of next year. Of the new innovations planned for the suite, electric doors will most notably be put in place, closing on command in the event of any disaster.
For many, the experience has been strengthening for both the student body and the larger community. “I was really gratified to see how the rest of the community came forward and volunteered…I’m very proud,” said President Nancy Kleniewski.
“I was in Wilsbach right after the fire, and people were just coming up to administrators saying ‘I have an extra bed,’” said Student Association President, Jimmy Johnson. Donations in food, clothing and toiletries from the Red Cross, fellow students, faculty and administrators provided relief during the week and a half cleanup to secure the safety of the building.
“All of the Matteson kids, we didn’t even know eachother, we just sat together at the [dining hall]. We all just banded together,” said Oneonta sophomore, Gene DuVall.
The college arranged for transportation in moving students from the Holiday Inn back to Matteson on Friday, “They were all smiles, everyone was so happy to be back in their home. It was really heartening,” said Luettger.
Resident Life will be holding and participating in a series of de-briefs this week focusing on the fire, “We’ll sit down and say, ‘Okay, this is everything we did, we have all of our timelines. What could we have done better?’” said Luettger.
For the affected students, having somewhere to call home again after the fire has been the greatest relief of all. “We were very excited to welcome them back home. Everyone’s relaxing, getting back to some kind of normality,” said Resident Director of Matteson Hall, Thomas Rouse. “They’re all happy to be able to focus on school now.”