Students displaced after pipes burst in UCO suites

A flooded hallway in UCO’s suites (DALLAS MCCORKLE/STUDENT SUBMISSION)

A burst sprinkler line caused by winter storm damage forced the relocation of 80 students from the University of Central Oklahoma University Suites Dormitory, disrupting dorm life as classes began. 

Mid-afternoon on Jan. 16, the sprinkler lines on the east side of the building burst abruptly. Residents said that the bursts started on the fourth floor and extended to the lower floors, resulting in nearly one quarter of the 300 University Suites residents to be relocated to other rooms of the suites and other on-campus complexes.

UCO states uncertainty as to how this happened when they have internal heating to stop this from happening.

Dallas McCorkle, a fourth-floor resident, was not only directly affected by the flooding but also had to be relocated.

“The flood started right outside my door, so we had three-to-four inches of water in our room,” McCorkle said.

She expressed her frustration with the lack of accommodations by the housing department.

“I’ve had to call out of work and miss out on money because they gave us a single day to get all our personal belongings out and said if we didn’t then they’d be at risk of being thrown away,” McCorkle said. “Which we found very unfair, and it was only one day I had so I could pack my entire room.”

Students did not have the option of moving to the west side of the suites or to other dorms on campus such as West Hall, the Quad, and the Commons, McCorkle said.. However, through direct communication with the director of housing and dining, she was able to secure a room for herself and her roommate.

Other students received an email from the UCO Housing & Residential Engagement team with their new room assignments a few days after the incident. In the email, the UCO office said it is working to accommodate students facing price changes if they were required to relocate.

“At this time, occupancy in the affected area is prohibited,” said the email. “While the repair and restoration work take place, affected residents will be temporarily re-assigned to an alternate room and roommate in an unaffected UCO residence hall space based on availability. Affected students’ accounts may be adjusted based on the length of time and location of the re-assignment and will reflect the lowest rate available between the two buildings.”

Residents said they are unsure whether their relocation is permanent or temporary, and that the communication from the university is limited. 

Mercedes Cosby, a resident on the west side of the University Suites, recalled how she was notified about the flooding.

“I get a message from my RA saying, ‘Everyone evacuate the building.’ My hometown is an hour and 45 minutes away. Where am I supposed to go? She gave us very vague details but ended up telling us the building was flooded. We were in the cold for hours before we were told to come back.”

Many students were left to go to their friends’ dorms until they had enough information on what led to the evacuation, Cosby said. 

In addition to relocating, students’ concerns shifted toward the ongoing construction their complex would face.

“I came back the next day and all of the machines were rumbling throughout the night. The sounds are driving us crazy because [the machines] are continuously turned on,” Cosby said. 

Dust from the construction is also triggering the fire alarms throughout the building, leaving students unsure of the difference between a drill, a real fire, or the dust, Cosby said.

There is also a smell. 

“The smell in here was really bad. When it first happened, before you even walked in the building you could smell it. There was toilet paper everywhere on the fourth floor. It felt and smelled like you were walking through toilet water. It was really disgusting that they still allowed us in the dorm,” said Cosby. 

As of now, there is no official estimate on how long the construction in the suites will take.

“We haven’t heard anything about reimbursement,”McCorkle said, highlighting thelack of communication between the residents of the University Suites and UCO. The dorm community found themselves relying on their resident assistants’ messages for updates.

“We never got an official email from UCO,” says Cosby. “Just group me messages from our RAs”

Adrienne Nobles, Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs at UCO gave KFOR a statement on Jan. 17. 

“We did have a pipe burst in the University Suites, which did cause flooding and some damage to part of the building,” Nobles said in the email. “Approximately 80 of the 300 residents are impacted. They are being contacted now by UCO Housing staff and are being offered another room on campus while the damage is cleaned up and repaired.

“Right now, we have turned off the water, are assessing the damage and beginning to arrange for clean-up and repairs,” she said. “We do not know at this time how long impacted residents will be displaced. They will be able to return to their rooms to retrieve items.

“For this residence hall, it was a sprinkler line that burst,” Nobles continued. “We have heaters that are supposed to prevent issues with the sprinkler line, and are looking into what happened. The pipes to the rooms are all interior for this hall, so dripping is not needed. Only one hall, The Commons, has exterior pipes, and they are advised to drip faucets. The housing contract signed by residents advises them to secure renter’s insurance for their personal property and that the university would not reimburse for property damage. We are working with residents to secure any items they may need.”

The Vista will continue to cover this story.

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