Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fire breaks out in Wyly - 14 Nov. 2006

As luck would have it, I and a group of my reporter buddies were coming out of a meeting one night and saw fire trucks lined up outside a university residence hall. I grabbed one of them, a photographer, found a notebook and ran to the building. This was the most breaking news I had done - go adrenaline!


Wyly Hall was evacuated after a fire erupted in the men's quad Thursday night.

University Housing said Friday the cause of the fire was from a lit candle in a room on the first floor of the east wing. Officials were unsure if the resident was in the room at the time the fire began.

Don Weston, assistant director of Housing, said the dorm's fire alarm sounded automatically, prompting other residents to evacuate. Campus police then arrived and searched room-by-room until the fire was discovered.

The fire department contained the fire to one room in the men's quad.

Eli Rhoades, Sallisaw freshman, lives in Wyly.

"I came out because of the fire alarm and I saw my RA [resident assistant] running," he said. "Smoke was billowing from the quad."

Rhoades said he did not take anything with him during the evacuation. He said the fire department arrived about 10 minutes after the alarm sounded.

"We had very minor damage because of a fast response," said Weston. "We are very proud of that."

After the fire came under control, resident assistants allowed five residents at a time back into the building to gather linens and personal effects. Housing provided linens to those whose sheets were damaged from smoke. Students were also provided water, and the on-campus convenience store Essentials stayed open an extra hour.

About 30 RAs came on scene to assist with the logistics of supplying Wyly Hall residents with accommodations.

"We set up a big operation to make sure students had a place to go, linens and everything they needed," said Weston.

He said the evacuation "couldn't have gone better." Sometimes, he said, not all students will leave their rooms when an alarm sounds.

"In this case, it went great," he said. By Friday, risk managers and campus police were still investigating the fire.

One RA went to the hospital Friday complaining of an irritated respiratory system.

The dorm reopened Friday afternoon to most residents. Those living in the affected areas of the dorm will not return until Monday, Weston said. According to Housing records, 91 students live in Wyly.

Wyly Hall Manager Sarah Slott said Thursday that residents gathered in Leoser Hall until officials could secure other accommodations.

"All over, wherever there are spaces," she said of the effort.

Weston said the displaced residents were assigned to "empty beds" in the Housing system.

Housing policy states candles, incense, oil lamps and other open flame objects are prohibited from resident halls. Weston said the penalty for burning a candle in a dorm room varies by the situation. A resident could watch a fire-safety video or be assigned to counseling. One might also face counseling and a fine for leaving a lit candle unattended, he said.

"This situation really demonstrates how dangerous this really is," said Weston. "This could have been a tragedy."

Housing asked the resident's name and room number be kept confidential. Weston would not disclose any penalties levied against the resident, but according to Housing policies found online, burning a candle can warrant a $250 fine, cost of repair or replacement and being placed on Residence Halls probation.

A professional firm from Tulsa has been contracted to clean the quad and remove the smell.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

With the Cards' win, does St. Louis stand a chance? - 31 Oct. 2006

ST. LOUIS – Nothing brings home together like a World Series win.

Nothing like St. Louis’ underdog victory last week breaks down divisions of social status, race and wealth.

Nothing – because after the Cards won Friday, everyone in the streets not from Detroit celebrated with each other: businessman and bum, black man and white, paunce from the box seats and brasher from the bleachers.

Aside from living in the same city, they all had another connection of the heart; they were Cards fans.

Baseball’s popularity is declining, but everyone’s a fan when his or her team makes postseason play. It happened with the Sooners, the Red Sox and every major league football team who wins the Super Bowl. It happened with me last week, too.

The last time I followed baseball with any conscious effort, Nolan Ryan still played for Texas. For some reason, however, I watched St. Louis nearly sweep the Mets to win the National League pennant. Then, I realized the World Series would be in town during my visit to a journalism conference.

My hotel was within a few block’s distance from Busch Stadium and after Adam Wainwright struck out Brandon Inge in the ninth inning, fans poured out of bars, hotels and downtown restaurants to swarm the stadium. The game ended at 10:30 p.m., but five hours later, fans still shouted from the sidewalks, drivers still honked loudly and the Detroit Tigers had all but cried themselves to sleep.

Cards fanatics now know their team is the best. In some way, that means the city is best. It also means the citizens of this city are better than most. For a few hours that night, they were all equally better.

STL natives will be lucky if the cohesiveness lasts more than a week. Even though everyone here is on the same page now, the challenges of living their socioeconomic status will come creeping back soon.

Maybe too soon.

Numbers released yesterday rank St. Louis as the most dangerous city in the United States. The report, compiled by Morgan Quinto Press, looks at 371 cities and their crime data as reported to the FBI. St. Louis was at the bottom of the list of safest cities, Tulsa was 335 and as a comparison, Broken Arrow listed at the 20th-safest.

And according to USA Today, St. Louis has pumped millions of dollars into urban renewal projects – even the building of the Gateway Arch was hoped to bring the city together – and even still, crime keeps rising.

There is a lot of pride in this city, though. People here know who they are and what they want – probably from the Midwestern mentality dug deep into the slums that echo neighborhoods in New York and Chicago. To the west of St. Louis is conservative rural America, and towns to the east quickly become metros of the East Coast.

I guess expecting this city to now rebound and work together is pie in the sky. A simple sports victory, in all its complications, is still just a sports victory. A few people get richer, a few more get bragging rights. But the rabid crowd gets no substantive reward, no trophy to take home besides maybe a red hat. They have no reason to better their lives. And with no reason comes no hope.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Old Science Building renovation moves forward - 14 Aug. 2006

This is a news/feature mix. The most important part is Board of Regents notes about the renovation, but I found an older gentleman walking around the science building snapping pictures, so I got his story, too. Great way to turn a dry-as-toast story into something significant.


Among the boxed-up chemistry experiments, empty wooden shelves and equipment as old as the old Science Building, Dr. Don Bowman walks through his laboratories with a digital camera.

Bowman taught chemistry here for 33 years and retired from the university in 1999.

The pictures, he said, are partly for personal memory and partly for a former student, who is now a college-level chemistry instructor.

“I wanted to show him the lab hasn’t changed much since he was here,” Bowman said before moving on to the next room.

It has not changed much at all. Vice President Kim Cherry said no record of any prior renovation exists.

And since construction on the new Science Building approaches completion and students prepare for classes there, the university will spend millions to renovate the 44-year-old facility.

The governing board for Oklahoma regional universities approved the renovation request in July – one day after Bowman spent the lunch hour snapping photos.

“I’m sorry it didn’t happen sooner, when I was here,” he said.

The board of regents, now known as the Regional University System of Oklahoma, met at the Branscum Alumni Center to weigh in on budget and project requests, and NSU brought two big items to the table. The first was a request to negotiate and make offers on three tracts of land near the university.

The second was the $6 million renovation project, which also includes a $100,750 line item for removing hazardous waste from the basement and tile flooring of the old Science Building.

Cherry said the waste removal has already begun and the renovation will include new paint, new flooring and furniture and an upgrade in technology.

The building will contain mostly classrooms and offices, with a few low-tech laboratories. She said about 85 percent of science labs are built into the new Science Building.

“A lot of this you couldn’t do in the old building because of the codes,” said Cherry.

By the week of the regents’ visit, almost all the classrooms and offices had been cleared out. The few that remained belonged to either summer classes or to the instructors teaching them. In some laboratories, boxes of equipment sat stacked on tables. Machines that looked decades old waited for relocation or, possibly, the trash heap.

In parts of the hallway sat empty shelving next to dusty and stale-smelling rooms while the steady hum of Coca-Cola vending machines remained.

All but four instructors had moved to the Annex on the last day of summer class. Classes this semester are spread across campus, with some even in the University Center.

The old building is expected to be empty by Aug. 18 and should reopen in one year.

Bowman said the science faculty tried for years to update the facility. However, he said, the money just was not there. With the passage of last year’s $500 million capitol bond issue and returns on revenue bonds, universities have garnered the resources to renovate old facilities and build new ones.