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Residence hall’s woes adding up for NWC

Cody Hall sits empty as classes prepare to start at Northwest College next week. Water damage discovered during routine maintenance earlier this summer has led to the closing of the residence hall until an assessment can be made of all the damage. Cody Hall sits empty as classes prepare to start at Northwest College next week. Water damage discovered during routine maintenance earlier this summer has led to the closing of the residence hall until an assessment can be made of all the damage. Tribune photo by Don Cogger

Board approves another $100K to complete damage assessment of Cody Hall

What started as routine maintenance on one of Northwest College’s residence halls quickly turned south earlier this summer, with the discovery of enough water damage to necessitate closing Cody Hall for the 2017-18 school year.

Now, further assessment of the damage has been deemed necessary, prompting the college’s administration to request and the board to approve spending an additional $100,000 from auxiliary funds to root out the full extent of the damage. The college already has spent nearly $86,000 on measures such as air quality investigations, a structural assessment, a feasibility study on the scope of the damage, as well as the development of preliminary repair plans and options for Cody Hall.

Discussion about Cody Hall became the focal point of Monday’s meeting of the NWC Board of Trustees, held in Meeteetse.

“Currently, Safetech, Inc. continues discovery and remediation work in Cody Hall,” Lisa Watson, NWC vice president for administrative services and finance, wrote in a memo. “The discovery process has revealed extensive damage to the outer half-inch drywall component of the load bearing steel stud construction. Further analysis is necessary to determine the fire code and constructibility issues that need resolution before cost and schedule estimates can be developed.”

NWC President Stefani Hicswa said that, at this point, trying to blame the damage on a single person or event is a waste of energy. The college needs to know the overall scope of the damage in order to be able to make a decision on how to proceed, she said.

“For now we need to have the means of justifying the additional expense, so it’s no longer a question going forward,” Hicswa said. “We need to start working on that analysis so that we have that ready to go for September.”

During the meeting, three options were identified once the full extent of the damage — as well as what it will cost to fix the residence hall — is finally known.

The first option — and one that everyone involved would like to avoid — would be to eliminate Cody Hall altogether.

“We would have to ask ourselves what affect [elimination] would have on campus, in terms of enrollment and housing and dining needs,” Watson explained to the board Monday. “But it could be an option if we felt like the costs were going to exceed a certain criteria we set for it.”

The second option would be scheduling mid-range repairs and leaving the building itself as-is.

“That’s where we are right now, in our minds,” Watson said. “Finding out what’s involved with repairing the building as it is right now, with maybe some minor upgrades. There will be some things with the building we will need to address. It gets back to the extent of the repairs that we would need for that mid-range option.”

The final option would be a full renovation of Cody Hall, from the bottom up.

“In order to finish discovery, there needs to be more money and time committed to it before we can definitely say which way we want to go with it,” Watson said.

The board voted to approve the additional $100,000, though not without some discussion from trustees. Trustee Dusty Spomer said he would like to see more cooperation between the agencies that have been contracted as part of the assessment process.

“I think we would get great value of it as an institution if there’s at least some level of cooperation and collaboration between companies,” Spomer said. “Two heads are better than one, and to have the two heads completely parallel and not talking to each other is something I don’t encourage.”

Spomer then commented on the need for the structure, and if it might be in the school’s best interest to consider eliminating it.

“I think we need to hear a strong thumbs-up or thumbs-down on will we need those services in 12 months or do we not,” he said. “That would help me a whole bunch ... If we have to have this to do business, then it starts to get a lot easier in my head. We need to hear loud and clear: do we need it in six months, do we need it in 12 months, do we need it in 24 months? Because tearing it down is on the table for me, as far as I’m concerned.”

Hicswa said she could have all that information for the September meeting, but said the remaining residence halls are becoming crowded with students having to double up. Vice President for Student Services Lourra Barthuly said because of the closure of Cody Hall and over-crowding, NWC has stopped offering some living options.

“An example is a student wanting a super-single,” Barthuly said. “It costs them more for that luxury. ... Cody Hall is the largest that we offer at NWC, and in a rural area that doesn’t have a lot of population to draw from, if we as a college want to increase our numbers, we must give them a consideration of a location to live.”

Hicswa said the college will know more by the next meeting, and by that time, she hopes any thoughts of demolishing the building will be laid to rest.

“In the next month, they will continue discovery and assessment,” Hicswa said. “Depending on where we are a month from now, we may have a pretty good idea of what to do moving forward. In the meantime, we’re going to do the analysis of the justification of the need of the structure so that question is no longer on the table.”

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