With power back to residence halls, workers are focusing efforts on debris removal, tree trimming and building repairs after ice and snow wreaked havoc on what was scheduled to be one of Elon University’s busiest weekends of the spring.
Elon University students returned to classes Monday following a winter storm three days earlier that closed campus, knocked out power to most residence halls, damaged an academic building and required adjustments to schedules for Fellows and Scholarship Weekend.
Administrators on Monday praised students and employees for their responses to the worst ice storm to hit campus in years. Faculty and staff members opened their homes to students displaced from their darkened residence halls, and several visited campus to assist in emergency shelter operations.
As Student Life staff coordinated efforts indoors to accommodate students, Physical Plant employees worked nonstop to first clear ice and snow from walkways, and then remove thousands of tree limbs and other landscaping debris left behind by the ice and wind.
“We were taken aback by the intensity of the ice. We all knew it was coming and there might be some downed limbs, but I don’t think we expected whole trees to be uprooted,” said Jana Lynn Patterson, associate vice president of Student Life and dean of student health and wellness. “It was a great comfort that we knew this community would pull together.”
A winter storm dumped snow, sleet and rain across central North Carolina overnight from March 6-7, 2014. Hundreds of thousands of state residents lost power, and several counties, including Alamance County, declared states of emergency.
Patterson and her colleagues in Student Life realized early Friday morning they would need to coordinate housing and food for students when power to most areas of campus was lost and the surrounding region was in just as bad a shape. The Moseley Center student center was open to students displaced by the power outages and showers made available next door in the Koury Athletic Center.
Students in The Colonnades and Global Neighborhood were able to return to their rooms late Friday once full power was restored, Patterson said. It wasn’t until Sunday that Danieley Center residents could stay overnight. With only partial power to the complex, emergency lights and fire alarms were inoperable.
“The first thing you always think about is student safety,” Patterson said, “and we were really conscientious about their safety before we gave the ‘all clear.'”
Activities for Fellows and Scholarship Weekend also needed adjustment. Deteriorating conditions on Friday canceled afternoon registration, and on Saturday, interviews also were canceled for the more than 500 high school seniors on campus applying to join one of Elon’s seven Fellows program as part of the Class of 2018.
A number of professors and staff who work with Fellows made it to campus Saturday to interact informally with many of the prospective students and their families. A separate assessment opportunity also is being planned so that all candidates will be considered equitably.
Greg Zaiser ’90, vice president of admissions and financial planning, offered gratitude to faculty and staff in a Saturday afternoon email.
“In total, we had just shy of 1,200 (students and parents) for a day that, from many accounts, left people very excited about Elon and pleased with our community efforts to move forward with the best program we could considering our challenges,” he wrote. “There is much work to be done to select Fellows and secure their enrollment but I am as confident as ever in our work to enroll another excellent class for the fall. … I appreciate all the work you do to make my alma mater such a special place.”
Belk Pavilion in the Academic Village sustained damage that will take several weeks to repair. An oak tree estimated to be more than 100 years old toppled into the roof above the pavilion’s front entrance. A dozen classes that met in the academic facility have since been reassigned to other spaces around campus.
“The portico has to be replaced in its entirety, and then there’s sheet rock in the building that needs to be replaced, though it looks like that’s the only damage inside,” said Robert Buchholz, assistant vice president for facilities management and director of the Physical Plant. “If you went into one classroom, the only thing you’d see is a drop ceiling that got wet. … The classroom itself wasn’t a disaster area.”
Buchholz praised the several dozen employees who came to campus over the weekend even as their own families dealt with power outages and property damage. “I’m just truly thankful that we have people who are as dedicated as our workers,” he said.
The university lost four trees to the storm: a towering oak that fell into Belk Pavilion, another oak that collapsed between the Smith and Carolina residence halls, a pine tree in the Danieley Center and a pine tree near the parking lot of the Station at Mill Point residential complex.
Hundreds more suffered broken limbs, said Tom Flood, Elon University’s director of landscaping and grounds. The heaviest damage occurred in “weak-wooded” species, he said, including willow oaks, pines, crepe myrtles and magnolias. However, those trees also tended to be older. Younger plantings weathered the storm in much better shape.
“I was pleased to see that the things we’ve planted in the last decade, very few were damaged, which means we’re making good decisions about what we’re planting,” Flood said. “As bad as the damage is, it could have been a lot worse. One more hour of ice and it would have been really bad.”
Landscapers will spend the next two weeks assessing trees for weakened or dangling limbs, and once immediate concerns are addressed, they will reexamine and more strategically prune each tree to ensure long-term health of campus foliage. The entire process is expected to take two months.
In the meantime, landscapers who work on trees ask that students be vigilant of their ongoing work. “If you see a bucket truck or a lift, take a look up and pay attention,” said Wendy Williams, an arborist for the university. “If there are traffic cones in your path, go way around them.”