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  • Chrissy Ewald, Staff Writer

Flood in Kaneko B Wing causes monthslong disruption

Updated: Jan 5



Photo of Kaneko residence.

Students in Kaneko B Wing are finally back in their rooms after a flood caused significant damage to the building in early October. 


Residents woke up to the fire alarm going off at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 5. After swiftly evacuating to the softball field behind the building and milling around for twenty minutes,  students began to suspect this was more than a regular false alarm. When they returned to the building, everything seemed normal — until they saw flooding in the hallways. 


A fire sprinkler had gone off in a third floor apartment at around 7:30 that morning, creating a flood that eventually spread to all three floors. Water seeped through the building into hallways, stairwells and other apartments.


The amount of water damage varied greatly. In one apartment, water flowing through a wall damaged one of two bathrooms and entered the fuse box, which had to be shut off for a few days. In another, damage to the only bathroom rendered the whole apartment uninhabitable. The most damage was done to the apartment where the sprinklers went off, where students saw contractors removing water-damaged cabinetry.


“Eventually, [the residence life coordinator was] like, yeah, you might want to grab some of your stuff,” said Lauren Meekins (‘24), a B Wing resident. Meekins and their roommate, Kendra Hutchinson (‘24), reached out to housing later that day after hearing nothing about what had happened or what to do. Their first email from housing about the situation came at 1 p.m. on Oct. 5. Their apartment’s bathroom was damaged, but lucky placement of belongings in their rooms meant the water that seeped under their bedroom doors didn’t reach anything.


Hutchinson initially wanted to remain in their apartment because none of their things were damaged. Despite initial approval from housing, Hutchinson received an email at about 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 6, informing them that their apartment was not habitable and that they needed to move because it wasn’t safe. Hutchinson was moved from their single room into a shared room in the Alpha Chi Omega (AXO) house. Meekins was moved into the house as well.



A total of 23 students were offered temporary rooms due to the water damage. Some, like Meekins and Hutchinson, were required to move because their apartments weren’t safe to live in. Those who had less serious damage were still offered different housing, said Director of Residence Life and Housing Heather Kropf, and many took it. By early November, all but eight students were back in their rooms.


The first place several Kaneko B Wing residents were moved to was the former AXO sorority house on Mill Street. The house had been empty since the end of the 2020-21 school year, when it was voluntarily closed by the chapter. The building didn’t have Wi-Fi, so WITS set up a connection in the common room that Meekins said didn’t work. The AXO house also lacked laundry facilities, so students were given access to the laundry in Lee and York. Affected students were given a free meal plan at Goudy Commons regardless of whether they had to move out. Housing offered to transfer students living in the AXO house into conventional dorm housing, which two students accepted. 


After the AXO house’s new residents tried to have a party on the first night that was quickly discovered and shut down, a westside resident advisor (RA) was supposed to oversee the house. However, Housing switched to having a Campus Safety officer check in on the house instead. 


Meekins said that throughout the process, communication with housing has been “bad. Really bad.” They noted that students have largely been responsible for seeking information and advocating for themselves, beginning on the first day when students were the ones who reached out to housing to ask about getting new rooms. Hutchinson agreed that students have been responsible for reaching out to housing, but that the office has been helpful when contacted. 


Kropf said repair work was done by an external contractor and that housing and facilities were pleased with their work. The first step after the flood was to set up fans and extract as much water as possible from the building. Extraction included removing one damaged bathroom vanity and evacuating water from electrical systems. Then, contractors set to work removing damaged sheetrock and drywall. Students said they followed the repair process on their apartments by checking the repair checklists taped to their doors because they received no updates on what was being done and when it would be completed.


Meekins and Hutchinson were able to move back into their room the week before Thanksgiving break. 


Jacob Plax (‘25) was able to remain in his room for the duration of construction. His apartment had the flooded circuit box, but after it dried, the only damage to his apartment was in one of the two bathrooms, so he and his housemates could use their other bathroom and were allowed to remain. Plax said the removal of damaged drywall in his bathroom was very quick but putting in new drywall took longer. He explained that he would have liked more communication from the contractor or housing about the timeline. 


Plax said the construction noise was loud and started early — 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day — but noted that the evaporation fans at the start were the worst part. Though Plax said the noise was annoying, it didn’t affect his studies or his comfort as much as those who had to move out were impacted.


Meekins and Hutchinson said the flood and construction period had significant effects on their academics and comfort. “I’ve basically been out of my room for it feels like half the time that I’m going to be here, and it’s … yeah. It’s been really frustrating,” Meekins said. “And then [housing] doesn’t know what’s going on and they’re overwhelmed because there’s only, like, so many people in housing.” Despite the situation, Meekins said their friends, professors and on-campus job have all been supportive. 


Hutchinson said the first couple of weeks were very rough. “It was like the university did not want me to keep being a good student, because it just was like … it’s not nice not knowing where you’re going to sleep.” They expressed frustration that the university is not reimbursing students for losing access to amenities they paid for.


Kropf said she isn’t aware of a flood of this scale happening at Willamette in recent memory. None of the students interviewed had renter’s insurance, and Hutchinson said they didn’t remember being required or strongly encouraged to get insurance throughout the housing sign-up process.


Hutchinson said there was one bright side of the situation: “I was planning on moving off campus next semester, but there’s like a $900 fee for canceling your housing contract. But they said they will waive that fee for me, so that’s really nice.”


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