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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, February 23, 2024

In midst of campus renovations, Lewis residents faced flood damage

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The exterior of Lewis Hall is pictured on Feb. 26, 2020.

Lewis Hall is one of the largest of the six traditional residence halls on campus for sophomores, housing 57 doubles, 74 singles and three triples. Lewis has undergone several renovations in recent years including bathroom repairs and roofing replacements, according to Gretchen Von Grossmann, director of capital programs at Tufts. She added that there are plans to have the exterior of Lewis renovated in 2023.

“Lewis Hall’s bathrooms were renovated in 2011, including new piping, and it received a new roof in 2016," Von Grossman wrote in an email to the Daily. "Each of those elements has an expected lifespan of at least 20 years. There is a placeholder in the Deferred Maintenance capital plan for work on the exterior of the building in summer of 2023."

Despite these past renovations, Lewis Hall has consistently had maintenance issues that have affected residents living in the hall, including roof damage in 2015 and piping issues that caused rainwater to seep into the building and flooding in student dorms. This has caused many Lewis residents to feel frustrated with how Tufts chooses to renovate buildings, especially considering that Lewis is a sophomore dorm and current freshman dorms such as Tilton Hall and Bush Hall have undergone more recent renovations.

“I don’t think Lewis is a great dorm, which is widely known around campus. I especially think considering the dorm’s age and condition it isn’t given as much attention as it needs,” Karen Dooley, a sophomore and Lewis resident, said.

When asked about how Tufts chooses which residential halls deserve the top renovation priority, Von Grossmann explained that the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL) works with multiple groups on campus to determine the condition of each building.

“Residential Life works with Operations’ Campus Planning and Campus Renewal department and the School of Arts and Sciences [and] School of Engineering leadership to include ORLL priorities in a multi-year capital plan," Von Grossmann said in an email. "Residential projects are balanced against priorities in other types of buildings across campus. Other data helps establish priorities as well, such as a Facilities Condition Index which provides an assessment of building systems and where they are in their life span for each building on campus, and observations and experiences of the Facilities Maintenance staff."

Von Grossmann later referenced the Tufts buildings that have received partial or full renovations.

“For context," she wrote, "Tufts just completed a substantial building program in the residence halls, investing over [$75 million] in four years. Buildings renovated in part or in full included Lewis, Bush, Haskell, Tilton, Latin Way, Harleston, Hillside 1 and 2, Hallowell, Carmichael, Miller, Houston, Richardson, Stratton, CoHo, Metcalf, and others."

Despite having received these partial renovations, several students living in Lewis this year have experienced burst pipes in their rooms causing flood damage. Hannah San Sebastian, a sophomore and resident of Lewis Hall, explained that she was not initially notified by Tufts after they had become aware of the flood damage. She explained that she discovered that Tufts maintenance workers had entered her room when they discovered the flooding without her knowledge.

“In November, there was a pipe burst that flooded my hallway and also my room," San Sebastian said. "However, I was never notified that this happened, and only found out when I entered my room to find the floor wet, with items of clothing that were wet having been tossed onto my bed by Tufts staff, which ruined my bedding as well. It was very frustrating to have this happen and not be noticed. Many of my items, including sneakers and carpet, were totally ruined."

Similarly, Dooley explained how she was notified not by Tufts faculty, but by her roommate about the flooding issue. She later claims that she was initially being blamed for the flooding incident, despite not having any control over the pipes bursting.

“My roommate came back to our room a bit before me after winter break and let me know that there were some water issues,” Dooley said. “Facilities originally blamed us and the room next to us that had flooded for unplugging our fridges over break. This, in our case, was not true. We discovered the next day that the heater behind my bed was leaking. Two out of our three rugs were ruined as well as a fair amount of stuff under my bed. I tried to save as much of the stuff I had in storage under my bed but had to throw away a suitcase, a pair of shoes, my sports backpack, and some of my clothes."

When asked if the Lewis floods were concerning as a member of the operations division, Von Grossmann responded that flooding issues with many old buildings on campus are sometimes inevitable.

“Facilities are managing residential buildings housing over 3,400 people on the Medford campus, in space totaling over a half-million square feet, in buildings ranging in age from 150 years to 17 years," Von Grossman wrote. "Just like in a home, from time to time a pipe will break."

Joshua Hartman, the director of residential life and learning, added that ORLL aims to work promptly and effectively when a flooding issue occurs.

“Any time there is any disruption to the residential experience for our students, our office is concerned and works hard to provide support to those affected," he wrote in an email. "Additionally, we work with our partners in Facilities to address maintenance or building issues. When our office is notified of facilities or maintenance issues in the residence halls, we connect with our colleagues in Facilities who respond swiftly to address any concerns. Facilities trades professionals are on call in the evenings and weekends for emergency situations and are often called for such issues."

According to Hartman, ORLL and Facilities work to address any maintenance issues as they arise.

San Sebastian and Dooley recount having difficulties working with Facilities following the flood damage. Dooley said the flooding itself was resolved quickly, but wished she had received more information about the timeline of other repairs.

“Some of the support was helpful and some was not. The leaking was solved rapidly and room cleaning took a couple of days. However, communication between all parties wasn’t very clear, and I wish that they had given me a timeline of what work was being done,” Dooley said.

San Sebastian recounted that while the flooding issue was resolved, she had many issues with the replacement of her destroyed items. While she claims that Tufts initially offered to pay for her damaged items, San Sebastian says they later retracted their offer until her parents became involved.

“Initially, Tufts offered to pay but then after I sent in the list of destroyed items, I was told that Tufts would no longer pay,” San Sebastian said. “My parents got involved and eventually Tufts apologized for the incident, not informing me of the flooding, and replaced the damaged items, but overall a very long and frustrating endeavor.”

When asked about the process for replacing destroyed items, Hartman explained that students sign a liability agreement that states Tufts is not responsible for replacing items that are lost or destroyed in many circumstances, including flood damage to a room.

“Unfortunately, Tufts is not able to provide reimbursement for damage to personal belongings," Hartman wrote. "We recommend that students obtain renters insurance or include their residence hall room on family policies. In our Housing Agreement, under 'Liability,' we notify students of this policy. This is included in the housing agreement that must be agreed to before participating in the housing selection process or completing an application for housing."

Some students felt as if they didn't receive adequate support from the ORLL. Dooley felt that this made balancing academics with replacing her belongings and fixing other damaged items difficult.

“I had to put essentially all of my stuff into my closet and had to figure out how to live without a room for a week," she said. "I was hoping to start off my semester on the right foot and this made it really hard. It became difficult to balance starting off school work and also communicating with all the different people from residential life. I still have some things on my to-do list that has to do with this whole situation that I’ve put off due to school. It took a lot of my time and energy to try to recover shoes and clothes I had under there that were sitting in mold all of break."

Although Lewis has faced damages in the past, Tufts works to keep buildings up to date. Maintenance workers continually assess the state of the building, Daniela Sousa, residential facilities manager, wrote in an email to the Daily.

“The Facilities team, comprised of Licensed Trades Professionals and Zone Managers perform weekly walk-throughs of the Facilities to ensure maintenance tickets are completed as well as triage daily calls that come through the department requiring immediate attention. During the summer, we walk every location with both the city of Medford and Somerville to obtain our Lodging House License for the year. We walk with Fire, Health, Building and Electrical Inspectors to perform these walk-throughs and correct any issues identified prior to students moving back to campus in the fall,” Sousa wrote.