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The Dartmouth
June 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

College addresses damage from cold temperatures

A cold front with subzero temperatures moved through northern New England last Friday, damaging some College-owned buildings and breaking weather records for wind chill.

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As temperatures in Hanover reached -13° Fahrenheit on Friday night, extreme cold damaged College buildings and displaced several students from their residences.

According to College real estate director Dan Justynski, a domestic water line froze at 22 North Park Street, a graduate residence currently filled by undergraduates. The pipe, located above the ceiling on the second floor of the building, flooded the living room below and forced eight students to relocate — likely until the beginning of next term, Justynski said. 

The Real Estate Office also recorded up to $50,000 in estimated damage from two burst sprinkler pipes at Sachem Village, a graduate neighborhood managed by the College. Three graduate students have permanently relocated to another Village residence, while another three have moved to a temporary Dartmouth Real Estate unit for approximately the next four weeks, Justynski said.

Residential Operations director Cathy Henault said the College faced no issues in its residence halls, other than the pipe burst at 22 North Park Street. Justynski said the Real Estate Office has already sent two contractors to repair the damaged units at Sachem Village and North Park.

According to a follow-up email statement from Facilities, Operations and Management associate director Tim McNamara, FO&M also responded to water damage in four classroom or administrative buildings — the Corey Ford rugby clubhouse, Fairchild Tower, Kemeny-Haldeman Hall and an unoccupied office building at 200 Lebanon Street. McNamara wrote that the damage was “nothing catastrophic,” ranging from a wet carpet in Fairchild to a pipe burst at the office building.

“From our side, I think we were as prepared as you can possibly be,” McNamara said. “If there was any upside to this weekend, it was that it only lasted for 36 hours or so. So there was less time for the cold to really get into susceptible areas of buildings and start to freeze things.”

To prepare for extreme temperatures, McNamara said FO&M reached out to building occupants and relied on custodial staff and College “troubleshooters,” who drove around “looking for signs of trouble.” 

Henault said Residential Operations brought in additional staff to monitor buildings and be available to clean in case of damage. Residential Operations also sent an email to all students in residence — reminding them to close windows and pull shades if needed — and posted informational fliers on the doors of buildings, she added.

“We don’t normally put posters on the exterior doors of the buildings unless there’s a true emergency type thing, because partly it’s a safety thing — you want to be able to see the windows,” Henault said. “This particular time, we thought it prudent to actually put posters on the door.”

Henault added that Residential Operations received “many more” calls than normal related to the cold weather, but she said that communications died off by Sunday.

Justynski said the Real Estate Office also accelerated its operations in the week before the cold front, performing daily inspections, repairing heating units and communicating with tenants about any issues. While Justynski said the damage owes to the “extreme weather” — last year, the Office reported only two small pipe incidents in mechanical rooms, and it had none the year before — he said only the domestic water line break was “unusual.”

McNamara added that he has seen far worse damage to campus during his tenure, such as a water main break on Cemetery Lane about three years ago that “took out” the entire Class of 1953 Commons.

According to Earth sciences professor Meredith Kelly, the weekend’s extreme temperatures — during which New Hampshire hit a record-low national wind chill of -108° Fahrenheit on top of Mt. Washington — owed to a change in atmospheric circulation over the northern hemisphere.

“There’s something called the polar vortex, which is this really strong set of winds that are at high elevation that encircle the poles,” Kelly explained. “Usually the polar vertex is strong, and it keeps that cold air contained over the North Pole. But there is a breakdown of that and that just lets this band or … lobe of really cold arctic air come to the south, and that is what hit us last Friday to Saturday.”

Students reported mixed reactions to the extreme temperatures. Hannah Brooks ’26 said she dealt with the cold by cutting through buildings to stay warm as she crossed campus, wearing heavier winter clothes and staying in with friends for a “movie night.” While Brooks said she has not experienced this weather before, she said it “definitely was not worse” than she expected.

“I’m from New York, so I’m definitely used to some degree of cold, but I don’t think I had ever experienced this amount of cold, particularly for such a prolonged time,” Brooks said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I also knew that I had proper clothing and I felt very well informed about what to do, so I wasn’t too anxious about it.”

Abbey Clutterbuck ’26 said there was a “big hype up” before the cold front but added that she had already committed to skiing at Stowe Mountain in Vermont on Saturday. While Clutterbuck said she was nervous for the weather, she wore extra layers and was “pretty comfortable,” other than her fingers and toes.

Although she thought the communications “seemed funny at first,” Clutterbuck said the College did a good job getting out information. She added that one of her friends put a towel against her window — one of the pieces of advice outlined in the Residential Operations email. Although Brooks said aspects of the communications “appeared redundant” — such as telling students to wear a coat — she said she appreciated the map showing shuttle locations.

“I thought it was still a really good effort on the College’s part, to put out that information,” Brooks said. “They did a really good job distributing it so that everybody would be safe. It’s better to be over-prepared.” 

Dexter Jandres Rivera ’24, on the other hand, said he thought the communications were “overkill,” pointing to emails from Residential Operations, Student Government and residential communities.

“When they were sending out statements, I fully expected to walk out and just freeze to death,” Jandres Rivera said.

That said, Jandres Rivera explained how the statements made him reconsider going out, adding that his friends who went to Greek spaces reported “pretty dead” events.

“Since it happened over a weekend, it impacted going out,” he said. “You gotta worry about your friends getting drunk and then freezing face down on some frat lawn.”