The Collegian
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Students return from break to floods, report of bedbugs

The lingering smell of mold had greeted the residents of University Forest Apartment 1400 ever since its pipe's regulator valve came loose and the floor was submerged under two inches of water.

The valve popped off about a week before the spring semester began, resident Tim Cummings said. No one was in the apartment or the one next door during break, so the problem went unnoticed.

Senior Zak Kozuchowski saw the broken pipe when he returned to the apartment around 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 9. He called maintenance immediately, and by the time Cummings arrived, almost five hours later, the hole had been patched and the water turned back on.

The broken water breaker was in the closet by the front door, and the residents said the water didn't spread far. Personal damage was minor. The closet held only a few pairs of Kozuchowski's shoes, which the university reimbursed him for.

The floor was a bigger problem. Cummings said that the maintenance crew came again after Sunday and decided to tear up the carpet.

The staff in university housing had approved a plan to replace all the carpet in the apartments eventually, so the maintenance staff replaced the entire bottom floor with tile instead.

Maintenance staff came to the apartment every day for a week to work on repairs. They removed carpet, laid tile, patched the pipes and waxed the floor. Cummings said at least six people came in and out during that time.

The housing directors suggested that the residents leave the apartment while the repairs progressed. Two of the residents, Sam Beach and Michael Shrader, live in Richmond and commuted from home for the week.

Kozuchowski moved into a single in Pacific House. Cummings, however, chose to stay in 1400.

"I just kept the windows open," he said.

The residents received an e-mail after five days telling them the apartment was fixed.

Cummings said he wasn't angry about the experience, and he didn't blame anyone.

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"It was pretty annoying, but it's fine now," he said. "We didn't have to pay for anything, so it wasn't a big deal. Stuff happens, ya know. I'm not mad."

Joan Lachowski, director of undergraduate student housing, said she had been e-mailed by Kozuchowski the day after the damage was discovered. She said the housing department gets between three and four reports of water damage a year. She said most breaks occur during winter, because the cold weather cracks the pipes.

Lachowski said, "It's good to leave the heat on at least 65 degrees. When we get reports about this, it's usually because the students turned their heat off, and the pipe got too cold."

Cracks in the roof or blocked gutters also often cause problems, Lachowski said, because rain can get inside.

Cummings said: "We were worried it was our fault; maybe we didn't turn our heat on or something, but maintenance said, 'All pipes have a lifespan and yours ended over the break.' They assured us there was nothing we could have done."

The 1400 block of apartments was built first. Those pipes would give out sooner than others, Lachowski said, because of age.

Lachowski said two other apartments had reported broken regulator valves during the break, but had suffered less damage than 1400. She said she did not know which two apartments they were.

Lachowski said the report did not surprise her, because she received complaints about broken pipes as a common issue in every household.

Lachowski was surprised, however, by a student's report of bedbugs in Gray Court. She wasn't so much surprised that bedbugs had been found but that only one resident had found them.

She said they spread easily from stores, restaurants and airports and she had expected more people to have brought them back to campus from home. There was only one report in the fall, too, she said.

Goodwill was a big offender, she said, because people bring the bugs from home, try on clothes and then pass them to the next shopper who picks up the clothing.

According to her records, there has been a case of bedbugs in the residence halls every year for the last three years.

"We've had them in Freeman before it was renovated, in Wood, Gray, UFA, Jeter, probably 95 percent of the halls," she said.

Lachowski said the students who filed the report wished to remain anonymous. She said that, like those in the apartment, the students didn't do anything wrong. They weren't messy or dirty. Bedbugs are rarely a result of bad hygiene, she said.

Bedbugs do not carry diseases, but they suck a person's blood like a tick.

"An infestation of bugs is not good, because you can lose a lot of blood and become anemic," Lachowski said.

Getting rid of bedbugs is difficult. Lachowski said all clothing and bedding must be dry-cleaned or run through a hot dryer. The heat is important, because it kills the bugs. All furniture in the dorm room has to be replaced, "and the room had to be sprayed," she said.

The residents were out of their room for six days, longer than the residents of UFA 1400 were displaced. The students were then moved back in, and Lachowski said she did not receive another call. She said: "We rarely get a repeat call. Very rarely."

Lachowski has never had to evacuate people from rooms besides the initial source of the outbreak. She said the department staff had always been successful at getting rid of the bugs before they had spread.

Skeptics of university housing can look forward to advancements. A plan is being considered by university officials that would comprise a new building and renovations of South Court, North Court, Jeter Hall and Thomas Hall. Lachowski said all freshman halls would remain untouched.

The university apartments were not mentioned. There is not a plan for the apartments yet, she said. That will be a few years from now.

Contact reporter Rachel Bevels at

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