Student employees reflect on working through flood waters as university recovers


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Andrew Kolka, left, Andrew Slocum, middle, and Jenna Larson, right, pose on Wednesday, July 12 in the Architectural Trade Office in the basement of the Combined Services Building.


Listening to rain hit the ground outside her basement bedroom in Mount Pleasant on Thursday, June 22, Jenna Larson had no idea of the mayhem her job would entail the next day.

While majority of students received the call early Friday morning from hours away, alerting them that Central Michigan University closed its campus due to flooding, approximately 75 university employees were already aware that this was no typical thunderstorm. Several buildings on campus were affected by stormwater, including the SAC, baseball facilities, Dow Science Building, Rowe, Foust, Calkins, and Brooks halls.

Larson, a senior from Escanaba, spent the entirety of her nine-hour shift checking the lower levels of multiple buildings and pumping water out of stairwells, mechanical rooms and basements. Working on the day of the flood was the "most hectic" day Larson has experienced in all three years she has been a secretary for Facilities Management.

McKenzie Sanderson | Central Michigan Life

Student employees walk through floodwaters on Broomfield and West Campus roads with buckets, rescuing fish and other wildlife from streets and ditches on Friday, June 23.

"It was a lot of chaos at first," she said. "We were nervous because the water was getting so high and we didn't want it to reach the electrical panels. It was 10 a.m. at that point and the water was filling the basements of these buildings faster than we could pump out."

Houghton Lake senior Andrew Kolka recalled seeing a family of ducks swimming across the outfield in Theunissen Stadium that Friday. Working as a crew member for the baseball grounds for the last four years, Kolka said he watched inches — in some cases, feet — of water engulf sidewalks, roads and landscapes until they were no longer visible.

"It was water in places I definitely didn't expect to ever see," Kolka said. "(The flood) is probably the craziest thing that's every happened here. I've seen some crazy snowstorms, but that's more of a routine response rather than an emergency."

Muskegon junior Andrew Slocum wasn't working with the grounds crew on June 23 when the water was at its highest level, but he witnessed the aftermath of the flood when he returned to work the following Monday.

McKenzie Sanderson | Central Michigan Life

A facilities management truck drives through flood waters on Broomfield Road on Friday, June 23.

The week after the storm hit, employees from facilities management, residence life, university recreation, facilities operations, grounds, skilled trades and more switched their focus to recovery mode as CMU opened its doors again. Slocum and Kolka filled countless numbers of sandbags to redirect flood waters and debris.

"I started working for grounds in May, so when I got back (on Monday) I was like, 'what did I get myself into,'" Slocum said. "One thing I took away from the experience was just how fast things can change. The way we take care of things on the (baseball) field has changed for the rest of the summer. Now were still just fixing things up that were damaged from the flood."

Assessments of the impact are ongoing, as recovery across campus is estimated between $7 million and $10 million. Of the 51 buildings on campus that received varying levels of water intrusion, the Student Activity Center, Dow Science Complex and Theunissen Stadium are undergoing the most repairs. 

In the SAC, repairs include replacement of the flooring in the Large and Small Sports Forum courts, which was heavily-damaged by flood waters. Also damaged by the flooding were the weight-training center, SAC pool and M.P. Fit room. Jonathan Webb, associate vice president for facilities management, said all facilities in the SAC will be repaired and operational by the time Leadership Safari begins in August.

For student employees, recovery efforts will continue through the rest of July and until classes resume in the fall.

"We were getting into the lull of summer and all of a sudden, campus is nearly under water," Larson said. "Just seeing how much work goes into that and being on the crisis-response end of things has been an interesting experience."



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