Campus News

Professors displaced, teaching disrupted after Agnes Arnold Hall fire

The fire was contained to one office on the sixth floor of Agnes Arnold Hall. | File Photo

The fire was contained to one office on the sixth floor of Agnes Arnold Hall. | File photo

Professors and faculty members are relocating and making up for damages caused by the effects of a fire in Agnes Arnold Hall on Jan. 10 that impacted about two dozen office spaces in the building.

The fire set off sprinklers in the building, leading to water damage in offices on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of the building. Professor Emran El-Badawi, to his knowledge, was the first faculty member to see the damage on Jan. 11.

“My office was not damaged by the fire, but suffered mild flooding and smoke exposure that I know of,” El-Badawi said. “The fact that I could not prepare sufficiently for the semester, lost access to my office and all teaching materials severely hinders my ability to do my job.”

El-Badawi is teaching his classes online, but is now without access to printed materials needed. The affected offices are also being emptied with contents shipped in boxes to storage as repairs ensue, El-Badawi said.

French professor Julie Tolliver had her office packed up with the notes she needed to go forward this semester before she had a chance to get to them.

“My office space was affected by sprinkler water, mostly on the floor. Books that were on the bottom shelves of my shelving units were destroyed, unfortunately,” Tolliver said. “My teaching is affected because I cannot have access to my course notes for the course I am currently teaching.”

The water damage from the sprinklers continues to other office spaces as flooding occurred in the office of classical studies director Casey Dué Hackney.

“My office computer, printer and all my books are now in storage for at least one month, but possibly several months,” Dué Hackney said. “Unfortunately I was not able to get out any of my text books or research books.”

Dué Hackney bought new textbooks for the semester and is now using a personal computer to continue on with courses. She said her old books from years past had passages marked that could be helpful for future classes, but are now gone.

“Overall I feel very lucky, despite the inconvenience of not having access to my office, or books or office computer while teaching on campus this semester. Still, it was a shock to think about how much damage could have been done,” Dué Hackney said.

Dué Hackney said she is grateful that no one was in the building or hurt from the fire.

“The aftermath of displacement after the fire, and COVID-19 before that, have made this academic year the most challenging on record,” El-Badawi said.

“But we are survivors, and what has helped me throughout this process is the enthusiasm of my students and their thirst for knowledge. I am indebted to them always,” El-Badawi added.

Conference rooms and other spaces have been made available, according to UH spokesperson Chris Stipes, if the faculty affected do work on campus. Faculty and staff have access to copiers and other office equipment in other departments as well.

Many campus operations are currently remote, so offices that are now unavailable will continue in that mode for the professors.

The cause of the fire was undetermined, but did not appear to be intentionally set, according to Stipes. Repairs are set to be completed in the coming week, but the sixth floor will last several more weeks do to the extent of the damage.

As an older building, Agnes Arnold Hall has had other problems and suffered neglect in the past, El-Badawi said, including rain water leakage, old elevators and vandalism as a few.

“I have advocated for the past 10 years at every level of UH administration to remedy these pressing issues, all on deaf ears,” El-Badawi said. “The latest fire is just another episode in the bad movie that is Agnes Arnold Hall.”

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