UNCA dorms declared safe after last-minute agreement

    Photo: WLOS staff

    We have an update about the ongoing issue over new dorms at UNC Asheville.

    Hundreds of students were left without dorms after new UNCA halls were deemed "unsafe" by the State Department of Insurance.

    Just a day later, students are now being allowed to move in.

    The state and the school resolved this by the university agreeing to a specific abatement plan, which includes re-positioning water valves and installing sprinkler systems in the attic of each dorm.

    The agreement was made late Friday night. It also includes special fire protection measures.

    UNCA must allow Asheville fire personnel to park an engine near the dorms, and the university must also house four firefighters in one of the dorms.

    An adult also will need to be on a 24-hour fire watch in each of the other four dorms.

    On Saturday afternoon, we spoke with Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Bill Haggard about how this all happened.

    "I think whenever you have a project this big with the kind of detail we have, often times, there are difference of opinion on what is best, Haggard told us.

    He says there's no specific time frame as to when the university has to complete all the changes.

    On Saturday, almost all students are now moved in.

    Classes begin Monday.

    Below is the statement from university's chancellor:

    Dear Campus Community,
    On behalf of the many campus leaders who worked to resolve the issues raised by the North Carolina Department of Insurance (NCDOI), and in the spirit of transparency and ongoing commitment to safety and security of the UNC Asheville community, I am happy to provide the following summary of where this situation stands at the time.
    Following the NCDOI notification to the campus on Thursday, August 16 at 5 p.m., campus leadership has been engaged in careful and rigorous negotiations with the NCDOI to address their concerns regarding our new residence halls that had already been approved for occupancy by the State Construction Office.
    A consultation telephone call was held late morning on Friday, August 17 with several leaders from NCDOI, State Construction Office, other relevant state agencies, as well as representatives from the UNC System Office including President Margaret Spellings, and Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith. The purpose of this call was brief them on the urgency of the situation created by NCDOI’s notice and to seek a way forward.
    The call resulted in an affirmative opportunity to resolve this issue through a negotiated settlement between the commissioner of NCDOI Mike Causey and myself. Focused efforts were made throughout the day to address each and every concern raised by the NCDOI and to construct an agreement that would allow for their immediate concerns to be addressed and allow our students to occupy the code-compliant residences that had already been approved for occupancy by the State Construction Office.
    Throughout the day on Friday, residents of The Woods, some of whom had been housed in hotels Thursday evening, and their parents, waited patiently with hopes they could move into their residence halls as previously planned.
    UNC Asheville Housing and Residential Education staff provided updates to students throughout the day about the negotiation and assisted families in attending various events on the UNC Asheville campus and in the Asheville community over the course of the day.
    In addition, mid-day Friday, the UNC System Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith released a statement:
    “We had a certificate of occupancy and a sign-off from the State construction office, so we felt like we absolutely complied with the requirements needed to move forward. The Department of Insurance has some items they want done differently, but I thought it was unfortunate and inappropriate that they decided to go the press release route to do this.
    UNCA Chancellor Nancy Cable and her team have done an excellent job of trying to manage this. Our school leadership will always put student safety first and they always go above and beyond.”
    By 10 p.m. yesterday, Commissioner Causey and I reached an agreement with the assistance of UNC Asheville Senior Staff and Commissioner Causey’s attorney. The agreement is described in the NCDOI press release which can be found on their website at: http://www.ncdoi.com/Media/News2/Year/2018/081818a.asp. Per the agreement, UNC Asheville will take extraordinary measures to address the items requested by the NCDOI, none of which are required by code. To that end, the Asheville Fire Department, in cooperation with Campus Police, arranged for the presence of a fire truck adjacent to The Woods and a 24-hour fire watch began at 11 p.m. and will continue per the agreement.
    Other items raised by NCDOI and outlined in the agreement, will be addressed by a small working group of technical experts in consultation with the State Construction Office.
    At 10:34 p.m., after the agreement had been signed, we received notification from NCDOI authorizing the removal of their notice that had prohibited occupancy of The Woods and students began moving into the residence halls.
    As per the agreement, two particular efforts will be made to further ensure the safety of our students.
    1. Repositioning the valves on the water supply pipes in the stairwells
    2. If determined essential, and although it is not required by code, we will place sprinklers in the attic of each residence hall in The Woods, while mitigating inconvenience to students during instillation. Sprinklers currently exist throughout each apartment and common area in The Woods, including bedrooms, kitchens, living areas, hallways, stairwells, lounges, bathrooms, laundry facilities and entrances.
    All these actions are a serious effort to address any undue hazard. With full confidence, we are assuring parents that students are completely safe. In addition, we have been monitoring and addressing a myriad of media inquiries across the state of North Carolina and the region.
    In summary, we appreciate the concerns of the NCDOI and will move with all deliberate speed to address the issues related to the agreement.
    It is now time to move on to the opening our academic year and support our students, parents, faculty, staff, and our mission to serve as the UNC System’s designated liberal arts university.
    Thank you to all university colleagues for your patience and support in the resolution of this matter, and special thanks to our partnering agencies including the Asheville Fire Department and the UNC System Office.
    Best regards,
    Chancellor Cable

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