McMaster students try to recover from devastating residence fire

554 students scramble to find new housing after damage closes residence building for semester

Update:  The University has found housing for the displaced students.

554 students who lived in McMaster University’s Brandon Hall are scrambling to collect the pieces and find new housing arrangements as they learn the full extend of the damage to their residence building.

Damage to the building is so severe that the earliest date the university expects some students will be able to move back into the building is January 2, 2009. Even then, less than half the 554 students in the eleven story building will be able to return. The university hopes to reopen the lowest five floors in January. Damage to the elevators and elevator shafts will take eight months to repair and the university cannot occupy the upper six floors without operational elevators.

Brandon Hall is the university’s largest residence building and houses nearly 1 in 10 of the university’s first year students.

Monday night, the university held an information session for students and parents to inform them of the situation and give them an idea of the next steps for the displaced students.

Students were told they would have to find their own accommodation for at least the remainder of this week as the university scrambles to figure out a longer term housing strategy. The university hopes to have temporary housing in place starting Sunday and is encouraging students to explore off-campus housing or, if their parents live close enough, commuting to the university.

“It will take several days to arrange accommodation,” Karen Ballaire, McMaster’s vice-president administration and chair of the university’s emergency management committee told the audience. “We will not have any student disadvantaged by these events.”

She said the university’s priorities are finding housing for students and making sure students are able to receive assistance to deal with the displacement.

The fire occurred in the middle of the university’s midterm exam period and the displaced students found themselves without textbooks or computers. Realizing this, the university announced the students would be able to receive deferrals on their exams.

The primary concern for most students was trying to get into their rooms to recover their items. Andrew Ho, 20, a 4th year Kinesiology student who lived on the 11th floor says he waited two hours yesterday to get in his room and an hour today as he tried to get as many items as he could each trip.

“To be honest, I really don’t know how to feel. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said of his feelings today. “My mind is a mess right now.”

His primary concern is trying to figure out where he will live for the remainder of this week and then figuring out what he will do for the rest of the school year. “I’m going to sort that out tonight with my parents and figure out what the best option is.”

The community is raising to the challenge. Offers of resources have been pouring into the university. The Ainslie Wood/Westdale Community Association has sent an email to it’s members asking if they can billet students. Dozens have responded and are opening their homes to students.

The university will be offering refunds to residence students and will be providing a per diem to assist students with travel costs living off campus.

The fire remains under investigation and the police have not released the names of any suspects at this time.

The university continues to provide updates on it’s website: