By RICKY W. LINDSAY, Sports Editor
With the University of Michigan-Dearborn closed January 6 and 7 due inclement weather and frigid temperatures, most students and faculty were able to shield themselves from the elements.
This wasn’t the case, however, for The Union at Dearborn.
On the evening of Monday, January 6, a pipe froze at The Union, the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s privately-owned campus housing complex.
“Last night, due to extreme temperatures, a pipe froze at the Union, causing the alarm system to sound and 2 apartments to be affected,” The Union at Dearborn said in a Facebook posting on its page. “Residents who evacuated were able to wait in the Victors’ Den until the situation was resolved. Heat and water were restored.”
Stanley E. Henderson, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Life, confirmed the incident on Wednesday. He could not, however, confirm the exact location of the incident.
“I know it occurred in two apartments,” Henderson said. “I don’t even know the building it occurred in, but I was told it occurred in two apartments.”
According to Henderson, the University of Michigan-Dearborn became aware of the incident after a mother of a Union resident emailed Catherine Davy, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. He said he was told by the owner and developer of The Union, Urban Campus Communities, that the pipe bursting was a result of the extremely cold temperatures in the region.
“We talked with the owner probably around 10 or so yesterday (Tuesday) morning and he told us that there had been a water pipe that broke because of the cold — it certainly was cold that night — and that it had been taken care of,” Henderson said. “We asked, because the mother had indicated the heat was out as well, at that point, the owner did not indicate that there was anyone without heat.”
When Henderson and the university reached out to the owner after the mother sent another email, they learned that The Union had experienced another malfunction. When the pipe burst Monday evening, one of the boilers became inoperable.
“We subsequently went back to him,” Henderson said. “We had another email from the mom and we went back to him. He had since been in touch with his contractor and he knew there had been an issue, when the pipe burst, it also took one of the boilers down. But it had been addressed that that was the situation at that point.”
Although The Union is privately owned and is not university property, Henderson said the university reached out, making themselves available for assistance.
“We reached out to say if there was anything we could do to be of assistance, we would be more than willing to offer that assistance,” Henderson said. “And then (director of University Center Operations) Kris Day, communicating with (university relations of The Union) Steve Ostipow, made the same offer.
“We were thinking if it was necessary, we would’ve opened one of our buildings yesterday during the closure if students needed some place to come. They (The Union) indicated that that was not necessary, that they thought the situation was handled at that point.”
Andrew Shalawylo, a student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and a resident of The Union, said the pipe bursted around 8:00 p.m. Monday.
“The fire alarms went off for about a half-an-hour. After evacuating and waiting for the fire department, we were given the all clear to return to our apartments,” Shalawylo said early Tuesday morning. “Since then, the fire alarms have been going off every 15-20 minutes.”
Shalawylo said that he lives in a separate building from the one affected by the frozen pipe, but still dealt with repercussions.
“They shut off our water without any notice and haven’t updated us on how long we will be without water or what exactly the problem is,” he said. “The staff had no idea of the problem or control of the situation when it happened and have not given anyone any information since.”
Like Shalawylo, Courtney Ford is a student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and resident of The Union. She too said the incident occurred around 8:00 p.m Monday.
“My roommate called and told them everything, not me,” Ford said Tuesday afternoon. “But our heat is barely working, so it’s really, really cold right now, and we have very low water pressure, and it’s cold water. I couldn’t even go to work today because my car was blocked in by the snow plows in the parking lot and we have no water.”
Ford said her roommate called The Union around 10:15 Tuesday morning about the problems they’ve experienced since the incident. Although hot water was restored to the room at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to Ford.
“No one has been up here since to check our heat,” Ford said. “As far as the water all they said [is that] it will take awhile for the warm water to kick in.”
Later Tuesday evening, Ford tweeted out a picture of a space heater provided by The Union.
“Someone from the office came by and said she was giving me complimentary space heaters for my roommates and I,” Ford said.
However, according to Ford, not everyone in The Union received a space heater like she did.
“My friend told me that she didn’t get one, and she asked the lady if she couldn’t have one yet because they were only for residents who complained about the heat, but she could have one if there were extra.”
With no where to turn, residents seeked The Union’s Facebook page for answers regarding the incident.
At 11:11 a.m. Tuesday, The Union responded to complaints that residents like Shalawylo had posted on its Facebook page regarding heat and water loss.
“Any reported lost heat and water has been restored,” The Union’s post read. “If you are experiencing heating issues today, please contact the office immediately so we can resolve the issue. Thanks!”
During the afternoon of January 7, posts like Shalawylo’s were deleted from The Union’s Facebook page.
“It bothers me that the staff of the Union seem to be more concerned with protecting their image than with making sure their residents are taken care of,” Shalawylo said.
Like Shalawylo, Sarah Keeler’s post was deleted hours after the incident originally occurred. She responded with a new post around 7:40 p.m. Tuesday.
“It’s really interesting to find that whoever manages this facebook page deleted all resident complaints and concerns regarding the heating debacle at the Union last night, including mine,” Keeler’s new post on The Union’s page read.
Keeler was upset when asked about how The Union handled the incident, including the deletion of her original post.
“I think it’s clear that they’re more concerned about profit than they are about residents, which is why they’re deleting resident complaints and concerns on the facebook page,” she said. “They’re more concerned with maintaining positive PR with possible tenants than keeping the ones they already have happy.”
In response to the pipe incident and its repercussions, The Union offered its residents free pizza and pop in the Victor’s Den, a space the University of Michigan-Dearborn is leasing. The gathering was set to start at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday night, according to its Facebook page and emails sent out to residents.
When UM-Dearborn student and The Union resident Rachel Tyrer arrived at the gathering before it started, amenities offered by the housing complex were no longer available.
“When I arrived around 7:48 [p.m.], there was no more pizza, only maybe 10-15 boxes of pizza,” Tyrer said Tuesday night. “So only the workers and people already there were able to get pizza. And there was only two cases of 24 cans of pop for everyone.”
Tyrer was not happy with the way The Union handled the incidents dealt to residents over the past two days.
“It’s honestly the most idiotic decision to replace something that is terrible,” she said. “A lot of us are out of heat, and we had no water until about noon today (Tuesday). They should be working harder on getting people fresher water and actual heat instead of this pizza.”
Because The Union is privately owned, Henderson iterated that the university can’t do much regarding the incident. But that doesn’t mean he’s not concerned about the experience students are receiving.
“Obviously as a tenant, I have interest in what’s happening in the Victor’s Den space, but as Vice Chancellor for students, I also have an interest in the experience students are having, and I want to be clear in terms of ensuring that students understand that.”
When asked Wednesday how The Union has reflected on the university of Michigan-Dearborn with this incident, Henderson said that the past semester as a whole shows a positive experience.
“I think the idea of a pipe breaking, even though you have 10 degrees below with the wind chill and all the kinds of things we’re dealing with, that’s still a negative, there’s no way around it,” he said. “Does it have impact on reputation of the university? I think the overall experience that students have is what would reflect on the university. To this point, I think the Union has reflected extremely positively on the university.
“This incident, I think, is still in the stages that where my expectations, as well as hope, is that this will be handled in a way that people will be satisfied with. Maybe not happy about the fact that it happened, but if people are satisfied with the follow up and the way the management company deals with it, I would think that it would be something in the grand scheme of things.”
Although this incident occurred, high hopes for success coming from The Union remain with Henderson.
“But I believe very passionately that housing is something that is of great importance to the University of Michigan-Dearborn. It’s essential that the private partner that we have gets that housing right for the experience. I’m not at a point of saying, well, this incident as serious as it might appeared to be, this doesn’t mean that housing has failed and going forward, it’s going to be a detriment to the university. I still believe that it will continue to be a strong addition to the experience of the students and it’s also going to help campus in many, many respects down the road.”
The Union has been contacted for comment, but has not given a statement to The Michigan Journal.