By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — SUNY Oneonta will re-open Matteson Hall to students today, a little more than a week after a fire displaced its 175 residents.
After making repairs in the dormitory, arranging temporary housing and transportation, among other adjustments, recovery efforts are restoring a more normal life on campus and reflect a team spirit and sense of community, college officials said Thursday.
“I am overwhelmed by the campus response,’’ said Steve Perry, vice president for student development at the State University College at Oneonta. “Everyone has responded so well to this situation — they proved that it is the people who make this a special place.’’
No one was hurt in the fire that broke out in a third-floor bedroom in Matteson, at 14 East Dormitory Drive, at 4 p.m. Jan. 16, the first day of classes for the semester. Oneonta firefighters — with support from multiple area fire departments — had the blaze under control within an hour.
The cause was ruled accidental and attributed to improper use of an electrical power strip. The cost of structural damages wasn’t available, Hal Legg, director of communications at SUNY Oneonta, said Thursday.
“Last Friday, our main concern was making sure that students displaced by the fire had someplace to stay as recovery efforts began,’’ Legg said in a media release. “Now we’re preparing to welcome most of Matteson’s residents back to their suites. Getting to this point hasn’t been easy, but the result — students returning to Matteson nine days after the fire — is exciting.”
Matteson was home to 174 students and a residential life director. The hall’s third floor will be closed this semester for repairs, and the 56 students who lived there were re-assigned to other dormitories within days of the fire, college officials said.
Students on the first and second floors had to wait until today to resettle on campus.
In the meantime, many students stayed at the Holiday Inn in Oneonta, with lodging and transportation expenses met by the college, officials said.
To relocate students and their belongings from the Southside Oneonta hotel, the college will run vans between the hotel and campus between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. today, the release said.
The college also is offering other housing options to students who don’t want to return to their Matteson Hall rooms. The college has nearly sorted out issues such as the laundering of affected students’ clothing, the release said, and resuming the delivery of their mail to the residence hall.
“Getting Matteson’s residents back into regular housing doesn’t resolve every question left by the fire,” Legg said. “It’s a giant step, though, in returning things to normal.”
Legg said the college has worked nonstop to restore the habitable floors for occupants.
Final preparations for
students’ permanent return to Matteson were to be completed Thursday, a notice to students on Facebook said. Cleaning crews will continue working on the third floor until Saturday, a process that college officials said would cause minor noise and inconvenience.
The college notified students about progress during the recovery: Matteson’s emergency generator passed inspection, state officials were deciding which furniture was ruined, the hall’s ventilation system was being sanitized, and the Department of State was inspecting the building.
Students are “very excited’’ about returning to Matteson, Perry said, but are likely to need time and support to process what happened. To help encourage them to talk and share their experiences, Matteson will have a social gathering at the hall tonight, he said.
The fire, a traumatic event, happened on the first day of classes, which meant that students in Matteson have yet to establish a routine for this semester, Perry said.
After settling into new room assignments and returning to Matteson, students are likely to adjust quickly to campus life, attending classes and everyday undergraduate life, he said, but timing will be individual and some adjustments may take longer.
For instance, some students, especially those in closer proximity to the fire, may not have realized fully the impact of the incident, Perry said, and the campus counseling and residence life staff will be on alert to help and provide emotional and other support.
Also, though roommates on the third floor of Matteson were able to stay together in dormitory reassignments, the floor’s suite communities were lost, Perry said.
SUNY Oneonta staff have been focused in the past week on the urgency of resolving housing questions, Perry said, and their effort was enhanced by college employees, students and faculty who volunteered to help for such tasks as escorting students to restricted areas.
The college’s cleaning staff worked many hours of overtime to expedite the recovery, he said. The night of the fire, students showed support for peers by providing clothes and toiletries, he said.
Perry said the cleanup went faster than he anticipated, and the Holiday Inn was “very good to work with through the whole situation.’’ In the weeks ahead, the college staff also will continue its review of the incident and response, Perry said.
“It’s really been a team effort, a community effort,’’ Perry said. “We’re slowly getting back to normal.’’
Staff, students, alumni, faculty and the local community also have shown support by donating $2,308 to the Matteson Hall Fire Fund, said Paul Adamo, vice president for college advancement and executive director of the College Foundation. The tax-deductible contributions will support students’ academic needs, such as paying for textbooks or computer software, he said.
“We are grateful for all of these gifts,’’ Adamo said. “And I’m sure our students are also.’’