Student causes flood, displaces two floors in University Heights South


Eric Scharf

A water cleanup truck outside of University Heights South March 30.

Flooding from a pipe caused by student damage displaced 40-50 students on the second floor of Tower 2 in University Heights South March 27, said Kevin Hytten, interim director of Residential Life. 

UHS students awoke to fire alarms going off at 3 a.m. and over an inch of water covering their floors, first-year Dania Mael said. UVM Police Services and ResLife staff responded to the scene as students evacuated, Mael said.

A student in UHS jumped and hit a ceiling tile which held a recessed sprinkler head. The sprinkler pushed up and cracked the pipe in half releasing the full force of the entire sprinkler system onto the floor, Hytten said. 

UVM Police Services and the Burlington Fire Department responded to the alarms triggered by the broken sprinkler within minutes. They began investigation into what triggered the alarms and, with help from a student who had recorded a video, discovered the cracked pipe, Bilodeau said.

UVM will not be paying for damages, as the person who is responsible for the damages is liable to pay, Hytten said. Students’ insurance should pay for any damages sustained and the perpetrator’s insurance company will be paying back the other company for the damages, Hytten said.

UVM Police Services cannot release the name of the perpetrator due to FERPA laws and the Center for Student Conduct will deal with all consequences, UVM Police Chief Timothy Bilodeau said.

Bilodeau said police considered this incident an emergency and they followed the UVM Emergency Operations Plan

For about two hours, while first responders assessed the scene, the students did not receive notice about any damage, Mael said.

“We were sitting there and were like, ‘Okay, our whole life is gone, we don’t know what the deal is,’” Mael said. “They weren’t telling us anything.” 

Around 5 a.m., ResLife staff falsely told students they could not go back into their rooms for the rest of the semester and that they should try to find alternative housing, Mael said.

“Honestly though, whoever done this really fucked some of y’all over because you’re moving for the rest of the semester,” said a University official filmed in a video Mael took during the incident. “We don’t have space out here, like, deadass.”

Hytten initially denied a ResLife employee would yell false statements to residents, he said. However, upon receiving the video the Cynic obtained, Hytten stated in an April 3 email that he would follow up with his team to review protocols for these types of incidents. 

“[ResLife was] not like, ‘Stay calm and you’ll be fine, let’s just do this.’ It was yelling not fully true facts at us quickly and then leaving us,” Mael said.

UVM Police Services then also told students they could not enter their rooms. Mael said they felt devastated thinking of all the damages and the cost they may incur due to the water damage.

“The policeman was like, ‘[I] hope you have renter’s insurance because we’re not paying for any of your personal damages,’ and there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages,” Mael said. 

All unprofessional comments made by police officers who responded at the scene were inappropriate, Bilodeau said.

Bilodeau will check Mael’s claims about UVM Police Services’ treatment of students with his staff and he expects all staff to operate in a manner that is respectful of the people who they aim to help, he said. 

The flood displaced sophomore UHS resident Ian Aulbach from his room, who then slept on a couch in Redstone Hall the night the incident occured. His first floor room had a half inch of water on the floor that poured down from his ceiling, he said.

Aulbach said he believes UVM did their best when it came to responding to the crisis. He only wished UVM found a place for students to sleep on the night of the flooding. 

“I’m still trying to recover from the two hours of sleep I got over the weekend,” Aulbach said. “But I’ve been able to keep up with my classes. Whenever I have questions, ResLife has answered them for me. They’ve been communicating with us through the whole process.”

Hytten said ResLife promptly secured temporary accommodations for all impacted students and believes students can return to their dorms on Wednesday, April 6.

Students have since been relocated to the DoubleTree hotel in South Burlington where they will stay until ResLife clears their rooms to be habitable again, Hytten said. 

Annabelle South, a first-year resident of UHS, said she wished police and ResLife handled the incident with a more professional attitude.

UVM has been keeping students living at the DoubleTree updated on the status of their rooms and belongings through email, Hytten said.

Despite their displacement, students are making the best of their stay at the DoubleTree, South said. Students are holding small pool parties and watching movies together in their spare time.

The best way to receive information from ResLife is through email and the main telephone line, at (802) 656-3434, Hytten said.