5 new UNCA residence halls deemed unsafe for occupancy

UNCA Chancellor Nancy Cable said the university was notified at 5 p.m. Thursday that the N.C. Department of Insurance had deemed the five new residence halls unsafe for occupancy. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Five new residence halls at UNC Asheville have been deemed unsafe and cannot be used, N.C. Department of Insurance officials said Thursday.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey said in a news release the buildings pose life and safety concerns to students and cannot be used.

The North Carolina State Construction Office granted UNCA occupancy of the residence halls Wednesday and students began moving in Thursday. Once the State Construction Office turned the buildings over to the university for occupancy, the buildings then fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Insurance.

“As Insurance Commissioner, safety is my top priority,“ Causey said in the news release. “I will not allow anyone to live in a building that may pose a threat to their life or well-being. However, I am confident we will be able to work with the university to swiftly abate the hazards in order to allow students to move in.”

Causey said construction issues would not allow for safe evacuations in the event of a fire.

UNCA Chancellor Nancy Cable said the university was notified of the decision at 5 p.m. Thursday in an email from Causey, stating that he determined “that conditions exist in the University’s new wooden dormitories that pose an undue hazard to life and safety and, therefore, is prohibiting use of the buildings until these hazards are abated.”

Cable's statement said UNCA officials have consulted with the State Construction Office, the UNC System general counsel and the Department of Justice attorney .

She said students are being relocated until the situation is resolved.

"The safety of our students is our top priority. The issues raised by the North Carolina Department of Insurance have already been addressed and accepted by the Office of State Construction. The Office of State Construction, which we believe has authority in this matter, has assured UNC Asheville that the buildings are safe and that office granted occupancy on August 15. While initial Department of Insurance inspections did reveal some concerns, those issues have been addressed by a third-party engineering firm, the architect of record, and accepted and approved by the State Construction Office," Cable said in a statement on the UNCA website.

"Our new residence halls are safe or we would not have allowed our students to begin to move in. In an abundance of caution due to this unexpected development, we are relocating our students until this situation is resolved. We believe these buildings are safe as was confirmed by the Office of State Construction. We are moving with deliberate speed to ensure minimal disruption to our students and the start of our academic year."

Causey, representatives from NCDOI and the Office of the State Fire Marshal’s Risk Management Division and UNCA plan to discuss the issue Friday.

University officials said UNCA will put students from those residence halls in hotels and provide storage for them and a shuttle service to get them to classes, which are scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 20.

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