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Broken sprinkler leads to Holder Hall flood, student relocation

On Wednesday, Feb. 21, a broken sprinkler forced 26 students living in two Holder Hall entryways to temporarily relocate to residential buildings and faculty housing for over a month.

Alice Wistar ’20 was sitting outside her room in Holder Hall entryway 4 when she heard alarms going off from within the building. When she walked inside, the floor was wet and, she soon discovered that the water had soaked her roommate’s belongings. 


“Later [on Wednesday], we got an email that we would have to be relocated for up to a week,” Wistar explained. 

Early on Thursday, when temporary rooming assignment were actually given, affected students were advised to find a friend they could stay with considering the fact that the rooms they were initially assigned to were full. The email stated that the move would actually last four weeks instead of one.

Wistar’s temporary rooming assignment was a quad, with four people already living there. This prompted Wistar to stay with a friend instead. The email instructed them to move out by Friday at 5 p.m., according to Wistar.

Later on Thursday, each displaced student was given a permanent rooming assignment for a residence on or off campus. The permanent assignments were rooms with no current occupants, meaning that students would no longer have to impose upon their friends.

The flooding in entryways 4 and 5 was caused by a broken sprinkler. If the sprinkler were left unfixed, water would continue seeping down into the rooms, Wistar said. The walls would eventually be exposed to rot and mold if this were to be the case.

“They will be doing pretty intense construction, like knocking down walls,” Wistar said. “Sounds like something they neglected to take care of for a long time.”


Wistar woke up early on Friday to pack. The University sent movers to help the students construct and close the boxes. She and six other affected students were relocated to Merwick Stanworth, a faculty apartment approximately half a mile from campus. Other students moved to rooms in other residential colleges and upperclassman housing.

“[The apartment] has a kitchen, washer, dryer, living room, three individual bedrooms, and three full bathrooms,” Wistar explained, adding that the University is trying to arrange for buses to take the students to campus. Wistar is waiting for WiFi and printing access, which the University will provide.

“They’re being super nice about it, but it’s really inconvenient,” she said.

On Friday, Rockefeller College Director of Student Life Amy Ham Johnson checked in with the students relocated to Merwick Stanworth to see how they were doing.

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“We completely appreciate your patience through a very difficult situation,” Johnson wrote. “I have told colleagues in Housing and ODUS that your flexibility has been noted. We cannot thank you enough, and we want you to treat yourselves to dinner at Winberie’s this weekend paid for by us.”

Johnson and Rockefeller Director of Studies Justine Levine, in another Friday email, assured the 26 students affected that they were still members of Rockefeller College.

“Even though you may be living in a space unaffiliated with Rocky for a while, you will still be a Rocky student, with access to all of the same amenities and programs.  You’ll still get email from us, be invited to our college-wide study breaks and activities, and — we hope — participate in the life of the college to the extent that you are able!” they wrote.

Michael Psenka ’21 was also temporarily assigned to a quad that was already fully occupied, then to a room in Witherspoon Hall. 

“It was all over the place,” Psenka said. “I did not feel like I had time to do much of anything else, because I was always either moving around, going to these meetings, [or] moving stuff.”

Psenka received a GroupMe message around 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday from his Residential College Advisor, Kyle Berlin ’18, about the flooding. He immediately went to his dorm in Holder Hall and saw water seeping out from under the main door.

Psenka also noticed that his ceiling was leaking from every available opening. When he saw this, Psenka froze, remaining stunned for 30 minutes.

“I realized that I was not going to have a room for an indeterminate amount of time,” Psenka said. 

The experience of being relocated indefinitely was eye-opening for Psenka.

“Life can easily take a huge turn on you,” Psenka explained. “Dealing with that kind of thing and having backup plans is obviously very important, and now I know from practical experience.”

Berlin recalls the flurry of events that took place since the flooding as if it happened this morning.

“I wasn’t there when it actually started happening, but I came back from class and there were massive showers all inside Holder entryway, some in [entryway] 5, especially the second floor,” said Berlin. “It was basically drenched on the inside.”

Berlin noted that students “are, for the most part, disappointed” by the events, but commended the Rockefeller College Office and University Facilities for “working really hard to make this as smooth as possible.”

“I’m sad because my zee group is scattered all across campus now, but I have a bike,” Berlin joked. “It’s been very unexpected and strange, but people are holding up.”