CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University officials say it will be years before they can replace an aging dorm building that suffered problems last weekend, forcing the evacuation of about 227 students who now have to find new places to live.
Students living in the Juniper Hall dormitory had to suddenly move out after water pipes started leaking, knocking out the building's heating system. Officials said the pipes in the 50-year-old building are encased in concrete, making repairs extremely difficult.
"We are done with it," said SUU vice president for university relations Dean O'Driscoll. "There's no sensible way to update the building without costing multiple millions of dollars."
Some students questioned whether SUU officials knew about the building's problems in advance of the emergency and wondered why they had not developed a more structured relocation plan.
Student and Juniper Hall resident Christina Gaddis said she had three tests coming up and now is dealing with trying to find a new place to live. "I'm extremely stressed. I don't know what to do right now," Gaddis said. "They had to have known about it for a while."
O'Driscoll said students have been offered to bunk up as a third roomate in a two-person dorm room as long as they all are in agreement. Other students will have to be placed with homes in the surrounding community, or the university will have to rent them an off-campus apartment. Students and parents have paid between $1,043 and $1,364 per semester for housing in Juniper Hall.
"So they'll give you a bed to put in somebody else's room. They won't even give you a desk or a dresser. Just a bed to sleep on," Gaddis said, who added she is taking a fourth option by canceling her housing agreement with SUU and working on her own to find an apartment off campus. "I've been up all night looking for places to live. And things are filling up pretty fast."
O'Driscoll said SUU pulled together an off-campus housing fair for Tuesday. Landlords in the area were sent an open invitation to come and offer housing to students. If students stay in their housing agreement, SUU will work to find them off-campus housing at no cost to them, he said. Officials are confident they will be able to find housing for all displaced students by the end of the week.
"There are rooms in this community. We just have to find out which landlords, which places are willing to make the best deal for us," O'Driscoll said. Displaced students will have to give SUU their final decision of how they want to proceed by Wednesday evening.
But long-term issues remain. Because SUU does not have the budget to begin building new dorms, O'Driscoll said the university will have to get along for several years with diminished on-campus housing.
Because it would cost at least half a million dollars just to prepare Juniper Hall for demolition — something SUU doesn't have the budget for — the building may have to stand vacant for some time to come. Most of that cost involves hazardous asbestos removal.