Local news round-up May 7, 2012

Classes and finals may be over, but people in Morgantown are still setting fires. According to the Morgantown Police Department, three suspects were arrested for throwing items into fires over the weekend. According to the press release:

On May 5, 2012, Mark David Euga Jr., 20 years of age was arrested at the corner of North Spruce Street and Fife Street as he was throwing combustible items on a street fire. Mr. Euga was also charged with underage consumption at the time of this incident.

On May 5, 2012, Kyle G. Whelen, 20 years of age was arrested at the corner of Dallas and Forest Street as he was throwing a couch on a street fire. Mr. Whelen was also charged with underage consumption at the time of this incident.

On May 5, 2012, Justin David Myers, 21 years of age was cited for throwing combustible material onto a fire that was burning in a dumpster at the corner of 3rd Avenue and McClain Alley.

This reminded me to check in with West Virginia University officials to see when they would be releasing the numbers of expulsions and suspensions for this year. The numbers will be ready next week. According to Assistant Dean of Students Melanie Cook, the numbers will show total violations and sanctions for academic and behavioral violations.

In other words, they won’t state how many students were expelled specifically for fire-related activity. When I asked how that would risk identifying students, Cook responded, “Our University counsel has advised us against doing so; they think it could be possible for others to identify them.”

Recently the Dominion Post has published a couple updates on stories I’ve been following.

  • Landlord ordered to pay $20K – In February 2008, Morgantown landlord Gary Walden settled a civil lawsuit by agreeing to pay $175,000 to tenants he was accused of sexually harassing or groping, and a $50,000 fine for violating the West Virginia Fair Housing Act. As part of the settlement, Walden was barred from nearly all contact with tenants for eight years, and if he had to make contact with a tenant he was required to fill out an incident report within 12 hours for the West Virginia Human Rights Commission to review. In September 2008, the Human Rights Commission alleged that Walden violated the terms of the settlement by harassing tenants, having contact with tenants when he wasn’t supposed to, and by not providing or filing some documents required by the settlement. The hearings were held between September and December 2008, but the judge has just recently ruled Walden to be contempt of the settlement agreement in four areas: 1) Intentionally initiated direct contact with tenants and improperly entered leased dwellings; 2) Failed to maintain complete and timely records related to tenant contact and dwelling entry; 3) Failed to maintain and provide tenant information; 4) Failed to provide notices of Fair Housing Rights to tenants. Walden was ordered to pay $5,000 for each violation to the Human Rights Commission. In February 2012, Walden was charged with conspiracy and entering without breaking after a tenant woke up to find him sitting on her bed and rubbing her leg while she slept. According to the DP’s article, that case is still pending.

And if anyone is interested, I have completed my Master’s research project, “Inspecting Sunnyside” – Creating a Blog About Off-Campus Student Housing and Student Issues. It’s now available to view on wvuScholar. Also, I’m graduating. Finally.

– Leann

Morgantown fire chief says apartment platform not up to code

Earlier this month, a West Virginia University student, Brian Weithenauer, died after falling from an apartment window. Weithenauer climbed out of the apartment’s bathroom window onto a platform to smoke a cigarette. The wooden platform had no railing.

The apartment is located above the High Street nightclub Rain. This is the second person to fall from the apartments above Rain within the last eight months – Brianna Smith fell from a window in August and foul play wasn’t suspected. Smith survived, but had several injuries.

It has still not been reported if they fell from the same window or apartment. However, according to an article originally published in the Dominion Post in August, “Mark Sanger, manager of Rain, said the area where the woman fell is behind the building in an alleyway only accessible through Rain.” They both fell into the same alley, but Smith was reported as falling from a back window at 240 High Street. All reports of Weithenauer say he fell from 250 High Street.

The alley is between Rain and the Monongalia Magistrate Court. From the street, the platform and ladder don’t seem to be visible.

In today’s Dominion Post, Morgantown Fire Chief Mark Caravasos said the platform and wrought iron ladder outside the bathroom window where Weithenauer fell do not meet fire code as a fire escape. The platform should not be made of wood, and he said the ladder seemed to have been built when the building was built in the 1920’s.

The Dominion Post also had records of the last code enforcement inspection of the apartment from Dec. 20, 2010. The article stated there were only three minor items on the list, none of which included the platform. Code enforcement is required to inspect an apartment once every three years.

Caravasos said the fire department had no record of inspecting the apartments because they are registered as a duplex with the city. The fire department doesn’t inspect single-family residences and duplexes. This is something I’m going to have to look into, because it doesn’t make sense. There’s no information about fire code on the city of Morgantown’s website, and it directs people to call someone for more information. Morgantown follows fire safety regulations set forth by the National Fire Protection Association.

In a previous post, a commenter questioned why code enforcement didn’t catch the platform after Smith fell in August. I’ve searched through all the stories I could find about her fall, but nothing mentions a code enforcement or fire inspection. The stories at that time seemed to focus mostly on identifying Smith and the status of her recovery. Maybe because she had such a high alcohol content at the time of the fall, officials blamed that and not the window/building?

– Leann

Three men charged for Sunnyside Dumpster fire / News Round-Up

Here’s a quick round-up of one local story about Sunnyside and some other stories from around the country involving off-campus student housing.

Morgantown Police charge 3 men for Morgantown Dumpster fire – WBOY

Three men were served warrants over the weekend for pouring gas on a Dumpster fire in Sunnyside at the corner of Beverly Avenue and Fourth Street around 3 a.m. on March 11. Brendan Schweer, 23, Michael Howell, 23, and Corey Burns, 23, face malicious burning charges, which is a misdemeanor. According to WBOY, if they are convicted, the three would face a minimum $1,000 fine and have to reimburse the city for any costs of fighting the fire. Schweer and Howell are listed as students in West Virginia University’s directory, and Burns is listed as an athletic tutor. WVU has said it will consider suspending or expelling students who are charged with starting fires. However, WVU will not identify students who have been expelled or suspended.

Program makes bills easier between roommates – The Daily Texan

The company, Simple Bills, was created in 2008 by Baylor University students. All roommates must sign up, and the company will equally divide the bills and send the statements. Students will just pay once per month to cover all their utility bills. They do charge a fee for using the service. For Morgantown, each roommate would pay $4 per month. The purpose of the service it to try to prevent friends from fighting while trying to collect bills.

Housing to do preventative bedbug sweeps, focus on education – Daily Nebraskan

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln experienced a major bedbug problem in its dorms this year. In order to get rid of the bedbugs and to make sure they don’t come back, the housing department will fund two sweeps of the residence halls, in May and August. The sweep is estimated to cost between $35,000 and $40,000. Housing Director Sue Gildersleeve said that the university will also provide educational materials to students prior to move-in and will educate students about bedbugs early in the fall.

If you want to see where bedbugs have been reported in Morgantown, check out The Bedbug Registry.

The off-campus rental trap – BuffaloNews.com

A leasing agent told students if they signed a lease and paid a refundable $200 deposit to save an apartment, they wouldn’t be bound to anything because nothing would be final until their parents signed the lease papers. The leasing agent then kept pushing that whoever signed the form first would get a free t-shirt. Once the parents checked out the lease and decided it wasn’t right for their sons, they found they couldn’t get out of the lease as easily as promised. They were told the lease was binding, it would cost each tenant a $200 release fee and they would be responsible for finding new tenants to take their place.

Apartment hunting tips for college students – Chicago Tribune

Most students in Morgantown may have already signed their leases for the next school year, but I know that one year I waited until April to find a new place (and it was super stressful and I signed the lease on the first place I found. But I stayed there for two years because it wasn’t too bad of an apartment). For those procrastinators, this article may be of some help when they decide to start looking.

– Leann

Hunt’s pay not likely to be reduced despite cuts to Sunnyside Up’s funding

Sunnyside Up may not have much money to work with during the next fiscal year.

The Dominion Post published an article in Sunday’s edition about the Sunnyside Up funding cuts, and spoke to Councilwoman Jenny Selin, who is also a member of the Sunnyside Up board of directors. Selin said that it is not likely that Executive Director Jim Hunt’s salary will be cut.

Hunt receives a salary of approximately $86,000.

Selin told the DP:

“Once you hire someone, you usually do not go back and ask them to take less.”

As previously reported, Morgantown City Council voted to cut Sunnyside Up’s funding first by 25 percent in early March, then again another 25 percent a couple weeks later. West Virginia University matches whatever the city pays, so that means the university will also be cutting 50 percent of funding.

Last year, Sunnyside Up received $100,000 from Morgantown and $100,000 from WVU, totaling the group’s funding to $200,000. After the cuts, the group will receive a total of $100,000 in funding for the next fiscal year.

After Hunt’s salary of about $86,000, that would leave the organization with approximately $14,000 to use for operation.

Hunt is also a member of Clarksburg City Council.

(Photo credit: www.cityofclarksburgwv.com)

According to the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram, council members earn $2,500 per year. The article also states that “Clarksburg council members may also opt to receive health benefits through the city of Clarksburg.” At the time of the article, October 2010, Hunt was one of the five council members who claimed full benefits.

According to the Dominion Post, Hunt said that he “doesn’t receive any health insurance or retirement through Sunnyside Up,” and that about $10,000 of his salary is in lieu of those benefits.

The most recent tax forms for Sunnyside Up available on GuideStar are from 2010 (PDF available here). Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Total revenue: $204,842
  • Total expenses: $173,865
    • Salaries, compensation, employee benefits: $90,176
      • Hunt’s salary: $83,200
    • Professional fees and other payments to independent contractors: $25,309
    • Occupancy, rent, utilities and maintenance: $8,010
    • Printing, publications, postage and shipping: $4,008
    • Other expenses: $28,862

The organization is said to have savings in the bank, but will it be able to continue operating if it only receives approximately 14 percent of its usual funding?

– Leann

Mold at Rowan University / Update on West Virginia mold bill

Mold has been increasingly becoming an issue in Morgantown over the last year, and other areas are experiencing the problem, too.

In Glassboro, N.J., students are upset that mold isn’t being removed fast enough in the student townhouses at Rowan University.

According to the article on myfoxphilly.com, “University officials told students about the mold in this letter last month admitting they knew about the problem since last September.”

Despite knowing about the mold since September, university officials waited six months to alert students. They told the news station that the “problem is bigger than they first thought and they need more people to clean it all up.”

NJ.com says that “A Monroe Township-based environmental consultant has released a report alleging widespread mold contamination throughout the ventilation systems of 109 of the 113 townhouses on Rowan University’s campus.” Of those 113, 70 percent had “heavy to excessive” mold.

Edward Knorr — the principal environmental/health investigator with Quality Environmental Concepts who has been contracted by Rowan for 18 years — said after he performed mold investigations this winter, he advised Rowan officials about the problem and urged them to conduct further evaluations. Knorr said officials refused and banned him from the university.

However, Rowan University spokesman Joe Cardona says they are not ignoring any of these recommendations and are actually following the protocol laid out by Knorr. In addition, no students have reported negative effects from mold at this time, Cardona said.

Knorr said that a student had reported mold on her bedpost. After removal, mold kept returning, leading him to believe that it must have been coming through the heating system. When he looked inside the HVAC, it was coated with mold.

Mold on an HVAC system at the Rowan townhouses. (Photo credit: NJ.com)

So far, 24 units have been cleaned – 10 during winter break and 14 during spring break. Cardona said some things will be left until summer, “but only because it’s not harmful or disturbing students in any way.”

During West Virginia’s legislative session this year, members of West Virginia University’s Student Government Association worked to try to get a bill passed that would make landlords more accountable for removing mold.

House Bill 4425 died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I contacted Earl Hewitt, the SGA’s off-campus housing director who worked on creating the bill with members of WVU’s student legal services and the environmental health and safety staff, to find out what he plans to do next since the bill was not passed.

Hewitt said the next step for him is to get in touch with Sen. Robert D. Beach (D – Monongalia County), in order to build a better relationship with him for next session to get more pull in the senate. He also sent emails to the senators who sat on the subcommittee, and Beach was the only one to respond. He said he wants to be persistent with them to figure out what seemed to be the problems with the bill.

Another step Hewitt plans to take is to set up a meeting with people who were involved over the past year with drafting the bill to find “the best way to attack for next session.”

I did have some more follow-up questions for Hewitt, but he has not yet responded. When/if he does, I’ll be sure to update again.

-Leann

Student dies after falling from High Street apartment

West Virginia University student Brian Weithenauer died Sunday morning after falling from a platform located outside a top-floor apartment into an alley. The apartment was above the nightclub Rain on High Street.

The 19-year-old Weithenauer was from Toms River, N.J.

A bell-ringing ceremony will be held soon in his honor, according to The Daily Athenaeum.

According to an article in the Dominion Post, Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said Weithenauer fell into the alley between the Monongalia Magistrate Court building and the building that houses Rain around 1 a.m. The alley is only accessible through the bar.

I was downtown earlier and decided to get some pictures of the area, but at the time I didn’t know it was in an alley only accessible through the bar. However, you can see from the photos that there isn’t a visible alley between Rain and the other buildings.

Rain is located at 250 High Street. The silver door to the right of the main door is the entrance for the apartments.

On the backside of the building that houses Rain is the Monongalia County Magistrate Court and Mid-Nite Adult, which is located on the right side of the white fence.

Rain’s owner, Janet Amores, told the Dominion Post that she was out of town, but a manager told her that Weithenauer was attending a party in an apartment upstairs and did not enter Rain. Rain is an 18 and over nightclub, according to DubVNightlife.com.

Preston said no foul play is expected, but they will continue to investigate. Morgantown Chief Code Enforcement Officer Mike Stone told the Dominion Post his office will “probably check the building for code violations,” after the police complete their investigation. Outdoor platforms are required to have railings.

No platforms were visible from the front or back of the buildings on street-level.

According to the city of Morgantown’s rental property list, the apartments at 240-250 High Street are owned by Inner City Pro Real. There are two units, and the rental license expires Dec. 20, 2013. The units were last inspected Dec. 20, 2010. Those are the only units listed for that company.

A quick search of Google and the Yellow Pages showed no results for “Inner City Pro Real.”

Amores told the Dominion Post that Phil Shuman owns the building.

Another resident of Morgantown fell from the apartments above Rain just eight months ago.

On August 25, 2011, Brianna Smith fell out of a window from a fifth-story apartment above Rain. Smith had broken toes, broken foot bones, a shattered heel, liver trauma, three broken teeth, brain hemorrhaging and various bruises, cuts and scratches. She lost 9 inches of her intestine, had 10 staples put in her head and had to have her ear re-attached, according to a story that ran in the Dominion Post.

Preston said foul play wasn’t suspected.

Smith said she had no recollection of how she got to the apartment or how she fell from the window. The last thing she remembered was dancing at Rain, and the next thing she remembered was waking up in a hospital bed, confused and frantically trying to pull out IVs.

It took police several hours to identify Smith because she couldn’t communicate and didn’t have her ID on her. She was identified when police released a description of her tattoos and her roommate recognized them and called police.

Smith had a high alcohol content which surprised her because she only remembered having one shot. She thought she may have been drugged because her friends said she started acting weird and disappeared. She then went with people she didn’t know to the apartment upstairs, and no one said they saw her fall from the window.

Preston told the Dominion Post he wasn’t sure if Weithenauer had fallen from the same apartment as Smith.

The Morgantown Police Department is asking anyone who has information about the Sunday morning incident to call the detective unit at (304) 284-7454.

– Leann

UPDATE (4:56 p.m.)Brianna Smith is speaking out about the recent incident on her Facebook page, which is public.

Huntington officials seek student involvement in city plans

Officials in Huntington, W.Va. are currently working on the city’s 2025 plan.

The comprehensive plan, Plan 2025, is updated every 10 years with new goals related to housing, aesthetic attractions and businesses.

A town hall meeting was scheduled on Marshall University’s campus to get feedback from students.

According to an article in The Parthenon, students were concerned with the location, cost, convenience and construction of housing.

Some students expressed that they preferred living in older housing to new housing developments because the older houses were charming and had more solid construction.

Another student also said it would be beneficial for both businesses and students if more people rented apartments above businesses in downtown Huntington.

The reason I brought up this article is that I think it’s great that Huntington officials ask students for their input on the city’s future plans.

Morgantown officials don’t typically seem to want input from students, especially when students cause trouble.

Most students may not be registered to vote here, but they still contribute to the economy. Students also make up approximately half of the city’s population for at least nine months out of the year.

Last week, a meeting was held to discuss a plan regarding the St. Patrick’s Day destruction in Sunnyside. The meeting was held during West Virginia University’s spring break. While the meeting did evolve into something bigger than was originally planned, it could have been beneficial to get student input.

WVU Student Government Association President Jason Bailey was the only student in attendance, but he didn’t speak at the meeting.

Threats of suspending and expelling students hasn’t stopped street fires. It wouldn’t hurt if the city and WVU asked students to give input on why they believe fires are started and what could be done to deter people from continuing the tradition.

I want to know what you think – do you think Morgantown officials should seek student feedback on issues related to the city? Why or why not?

– Leann