RAs encounter problems with maintenance, coordination

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Environmental safety concerns, a string of burglaries and building disrepair prompted a group of summer resident assistants based in Brackenridge, Roberts and Prather residence halls to submit a report of their concerns to the Division of Housing and Food Service.

In the report, RAs detailed specific incidents that occurred over the summer, including a broken water pipe, mold, pest problems and general miscommunication.

Yahya Kahn, pre-med and international relations sophomore, worked as an RA in Prather during the summer. Kahn said in one pest control situation, two residents woke up covered in ants. Maintenance responded with the pest control methods that are generally used, but Kahn said Brackenridge needs more attention than regular maintenance.

“They had ants crawling in their mouths,” Kahn said. “You can’t put a Band-Aid on a gun shot wound.”

The RA report mentioned problems with ants and Brackenridge had three pest control calls on Aug. 5 and 8, said Randy Porter, director of residential facilities at the Division of Housing and Food Services. “Ants are a typical problem in any building, especially in a drought,” Porter said.

Porter said campus dorms undergo renovations of about $12 to $13 million each summer in order of need. He said the infrastructure of Brackenridge, Roberts and Prather is about the same as when they were built in the 1930s. Porter said the community bathrooms in the three dorms will be gutted out and redone, but Littlefield, Andrews and Moore-Hill halls, which were also constructed in the 1930s, will be renovated before the dorms that the report focused on because the University did not identify them as the most needy.

He said the air-conditioning units in Brackenridge, Prather and Roberts are individual units in each of the rooms and if one room is cool and a neighboring room is warm, mold can breed.

“If students turn them off, condensation can form,” Porter said. “Mostly our custodian staff will clean it up with bleach solutions.”

Chemical engineering freshman Thomas Warnack, a current Brackenridge resident, said keeping the air conditioning on causes his room to be uncomfortably cold. He also said other maintenance issues include a shower without a nozzle and a clogged urinal, which he said leaves one restroom stall between 10 residents.

A major issue in the RA report is one that Porter said occurred in Brackenridge when a water line that fed the drinking fountains blew out. Porter and the RA report said that RAs used wet-dry vacuums to clean up the flooding as best as possible. Kahn said it was difficult to locate the wet-dry vacuums to try to clean the water, but the RAs eventually located some in San Jacinto Residence Hall.

He said he put in three maintenance requests for a toilet that wouldn’t stop flowing and was keeping the surrounding toilets from working.

When the water line blew out in the attic, Kahn said a resident called him at the front desk and the fire department responded.

The division has its own maintenance staff during the day and pays an emergency maintenance staff for situations after business hours.

“If it happens at night, it will be at least an hour before we can respond,” Porter said. “So RAs are definitely our first responders.”

Architecture senior Madison Dahl said an air conditioner spewed water into a neighbor’s dorm and left about two inches of dirty water on the floor of her Prather room in December 2009.

“All down the hallway it was wet,” Dahl said. “The water just ran down the stairs into those rooms. Right before we left for winter break, for a few weeks, it had a musty smell.”

She said the Division of Housing and Food Service covered the costs for the books that were ruined.

Hemlata Jhaveri, director of residence life at the Division of Housing and Food Service, said about 16 summer RAs help students with dorm concerns during the summer, and about 161 RAs serve in the fall and spring terms. Jhaveri said the RAs report any concerns to the hall coordinators who also live in the dorms.
According to the RA report, a lack of accessibility to hall coordinators led to problems. Kahn said there was little oversight from the coordinators.

“We’re supposed to have weekly one-on-one meetings, but that didn’t happen,” Kahn said. “A lot of what happened over the summer was miscommunication.”
Kahn said the chain of command was not clear and in some cases he did not know if he should go to the hall coordinator or go directly to the police.

Six burglaries took place in Prather from June 15 to 29, according to UT Police Department. Kahn said students should not have to worry about locking their doors when going to the bathroom.

He said RA training didn’t prepare him for the array of issues he encountered.

“You learn as you go,” Kahn said. “It shouldn’t be like that.”