Structural Impacts on Campus

The university has weathered many storms before, but it has never suffered the extent of damage that Hurricane Florence wrought.

“UNCW has more than 4.2 million square feet of interior space and over 100 significant buildings, and more than 80 percent of the buildings had some damage,” said Mark Morgan, associate vice chancellor for business affairs in charge of facilities. Most damage fell into the category of roof or window damage requiring minor repairs, he said. Several buildings had a moderate level of damage that was contained to one or two areas.

“We had 18 significantly damaged buildings: Dobo, Leutze, Cameron, Cornerstone, Galloway and all 13 University Apartments,” Morgan said. “Most minor repairs were addressed prior to the campus’ reopening. The moderate repairs will be completed over the next several months. The heavily damaged facilities will require substantially more time to fully remediate, varying from a few months to a few years.”

Repairs will be made with attention to safety and limiting the disruption of classes, research and campus activities, he said.

Damage assessment began as soon as the storm passed and the campus was safe enough to allow a good look at individual buildings, and continued for weeks. Not all damage is apparent, so the facilities staff had to consider the impact of not addressing minor damage immediately.

“Prioritization is a difficult process with a storm as destructive as Florence, and depends on many factors,” Morgan said. “For example, one of the first buildings addressed was Randall Library, even though the damage was relatively minor. We knew that the water intrusion, if left unattended, would create a very expensive and somewhat unrecoverable situation, as books can easily be damaged without properly maintained temperatures and humidity levels.”

“Having Mark at the helm of this extensive recovery operation put us in a good position to respond very effectively," said Chancellor Sartarelli. "We counted on his decades of experience and expertise every single day, from before the evacuation to the present. And his team, including Tom McCarley and Jim Nicholson, worked night and day to help us get back on our feet, so to speak."

Planning is key in guiding the response to any emergency, and UNCW continually tests its response plan.

“Our emergency operations plan has hurricane-specific information that has been tested numerous times during prior storms,” said Miles Lackey, vice chancellor for business affairs. “It is also tested during exercises, like the Hurricane Zephyr exercise held in October 2017, which focused on a Category 5 storm.”

Each event teaches important lessons, which are incorporated into plan updates. The Hurricane Zephyr exercise proved especially helpful as the scenario involved a destructive storm that would disrupt campus operations and cause significant damage. But each storm is unique, and Florence posed a formidable challenge to the response efforts.

“The greatest unexpected development that affected our plans during Florence was the flooding that isolated Wilmington from the rest of the state, which prevented resources from entering into the area and delayed mitigation processes,” Lackey said.

The attention the recovery effort requires has forced Lackey and his team to shift some priorities to focus on capital infrastructure. While Dobo Hall will require extensive repairs and necessitated relocating classes, faculty and lab space, the University Apartments could not be saved. Fortunately, UNCW was already planning to build student housing to increase the number of beds on campus.

“We expect to break ground on the new student village on the Millennial Campus in January,” Lackey said. “The project will offer 1,040 new beds by the fall of 2020 and an additional 760 new beds by the fall of 2021.”

While repairs will take some time, work will be completed with attention to the needs of students, faculty and staff, Morgan said. “Our goal for completing the recovery process is to keep the campus operating in a safe manner while limiting the disruption to campus activities, with priority given to teaching and research.”

-- Tricia Vance