Thursday, Oct. 25 was a distressing day for residents of two campus dorms: A tree fell that morning on a Kildahl window, shattering glass that narrowly missed a student, and Ytterboe lost power when a large transformer broke in the early afternoon, sending students elsewhere until the evening.
“It was just a nutty, crazy day,” Director of Residence Life Pamela McDowell said. “Every time I turned around, it was like, what?”
Vallerie Rami ’16 and Anna Caspar ’16 are roommates in the first-floor room of Kildahl that was hit by the tree. Although the tree didn’t actually come into their room, it fell with enough force that it broke both the outer and inner panes of their middle window. The day’s windy weather and the old age of the tree combined to cause the problem, McDowell said.
Rami was in the room when the incident occurred, fortuitously escaping injury.
“I was just here doing homework, and I wanted to get something from my roommate’s bed,” Rami said, explaining how moments before the tree fell, she climbed into Caspar’s lofted bed, which is positioned to the right of their windows and protected by a solid wall. “I look over and this tree is coming literally straight towards me,” Rami said. “I panicked, and I froze.” Because she was protected by the wall backing Caspar’s bed, Rami said, “literally everything missed me when the window broke.”
Caspar, who was in lab at the time, said she found out about the situation through text message and a subsequent phone call. After rushing back to their room, Caspar said she was greeted by “a dusting of glass.” Both of the roommates were upset, but Rami most of all.
“I could not stop crying and shaking for three hours afterwards,” Rami said.
The damage was significant. The roommates had to throw away their bed sheets, a large area rug, their towels and all of their food. However, Caspar said St. Olaf is reimbursing them for everything. Both girls credit the facilities staff who replaced the inside window pane in mere hours and the outside pane the next day. While things look back to normal in this Kildahl dorm room, it’s one story Rami and Caspar won’t forget. They’ve even saved a shard of glass as a memento.
While some members of the facilities staff were busy helping Rami and Caspar in Kildahl, not too far away on campus, more facilities staff were attending to a big problem in Ytterboe. When the dorm’s transformer broke, causing power to go out dorm-wide, McDowell said the initial concern was that a whole new transformer would have to be ordered.
At 4 p.m. that day, McDowell wrote an email to Ytterboe residents, saying: “It could be days before it is fixed – especially if a new one has to be brought in.” Luckily, McDowell said, it turned out that the transformer didn’t need to be replaced; rather, “two special wires” were ordered from California to replace broken ones in the current transformer. These wires were shipped overnight and normal power was back in the dorm by morning.
While the problem was solved before students needed hot water for showers for the next day of class, students reacted negatively in the interim. Limited emergency lights did not turn on in stairwells and other areas until 4 p.m., and full power was not back in the building until 7 p.m. when backup generators arrived.
“It was frustrating because all the doors shut [without electricity] and a lot of them were locked,” Erin Lawrence ’13 said. “You also had to figure out how to get in and out of the building.” Lawrence, a second-floor resident of Ytterboe, said that she used the flashlight on her cellphone to navigate.
Jonny Bauman ’14, a ground floor Ytterboe resident, said he too got to his room by cellphone light.
“When I walked in, it was pitch black. There was no one around,” Bauman said. “It was pretty epic.” After making his way to his pod in the dark, an experience he described as “eerie,” Bauman said he had to open all of the pod’s bedroom doors to let in natural light, since their common room had none.
“They did put glowsticks in the hallway [to mark the walls], but that didn’t really do anything,” Lawrence added.
A Red Cross blood drive operating in the Ytterboe lounge that day was also affected. They had to shut down their last day earlier than planned, with no light or power to run essential equipment.
Still, both Bauman and Lawrence commended the hard work of the facilities staff that fixed the problem. So did Olivia Cooper ’13, the Ytterboe building assistant. “I think that our Residence Life staff is amazing here at St. Olaf,” Cooper said. “Pamela, Ali [Wobschall, Ytterboe area coordinator] and all of the workers involved worked really hard to identify the problem and get it fixed as soon as possible … All in all, the situation could have been a lot worse. The damage was significant; however, the problem was resolved swiftly and efficiently.”