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

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

WVU won’t release expulsion numbers until May

When West Virginia University officials met with Morgantown city officials last month to discuss what to do about students starting fires, Assistant Vice President of University Communications Becky Lofstead said that the university needs to be more proactive by publicizing the number of students who are expelled or suspended so that students understand that there are consequences.

During the meeting, WVU officials said that students who were arrested during St. Patrick’s Day weekend would have their student conduct hearings the first week back from spring break, which was last week.

Students who were arrested could either be expelled or suspended during their conduct meetings.

Yesterday I e-mailed Lofstead to see if I could have the number of expulsions and suspensions related to the events surrounding St. Patrick’s Day. She responded today that the university “will aggregate the [numbers] for infringements for the semester, most likely, and get those routed in May – so as not to take a chance of revealing the identity of certain individuals.”

I understand the concern with not wanting to accidentally identify students. However, WVU officials said they wanted to be more proactive with getting the numbers out so students will understand they can’t just break the law and not be punished. Will releasing the number two months later still have an impact?

Also, it seems WVU will only be releasing a total for the entire semester and won’t specifically say how many expulsions/suspensions are related to the St. Patrick’s Day events. I have no idea how many students are expelled or suspended each semester, and didn’t have any luck finding that out with a quick Google search. I’ll keep checking, and will update if I find anything out.

– 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.

Sunnyside Up to form advisory committee to teach students to ‘learn not to burn’

Sunnyside Up lost 50 percent of its funding during March. To make matters worse, thousands of dollars worth of damage to the Sunnyside neighborhood took place over St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

Sunnyside Up Executive Director Jim Hunt said of the 140 Dumpsters that are in Sunnyside, 40 of them have been burnt and need to be repainted. It costs between $150-200 to paint one Dumpster.

Some of the new sidewalks were also damaged. In summer 2011, sidewalks were replaced throughout Sunnyside. Hunt said that replacing one piece that was burnt is estimated to cost $5,000.

“It’s an expensive thing,” Hunt said. “The idea of it is – are you going to go and replace this brand new sidewalk that had a burnt place that will cause a weak spot? If we don’t replace it – which we probably won’t because of budget issues – you have a brand new sidewalk just put in and it’s already damaged.”

When asked about how the recent cuts will affect Sunnyside Up, Hunt said that it will continue to operate based on the funds that it’s provided.

“In some ways we don’t have much choice,” Hunt said. “We do the things we need to do in our mission based upon what money is provided. Obviously, some of the things we currently do will have priority. The board will have to determine which ones they want to do and which they won’t be able to do.”

One of the fairly costly services the group provides is employing Manpower and contract workers to remove debris from sidewalks and graffiti from buildings.

“Those items are fairly costly and we’ll have to determine how much of that we’ll have to do going forward,” Hunt said.

Sunnyside Up’s mission isn’t to eliminate fires and graffiti, but to reduce and control them, Hunt said.

With graffiti, the goal is to have it painted over within two days of spotting it. Hunt said that it’s impossible to completely eliminate it, but if they keep up on repainting, it will reduce the problem.

In order to try to eliminate street and furniture fires, Sunnyside Up is creating an advisory committee for Learn Not to Burn. (press release available here)

Hunt said that at 61-years-old, he is a not a peer to West Virginia University students. The advisory committee will be made up of current and former students who understand the mindset of their peers.

The idea came about right after St. Patrick’s Day weekend – Hunt said he had e-mails and phone calls from a couple dozen people asking what they could do to help.

“They love the community, the university, and they feel like they have something to give back,” Hunt said.

Pure enforcement alone won’t stop the burning, he said. There are approximately 4,000 students living in Sunnyside and between 10-12 police officers on duty for the whole city.

“What we need is people who care about the community and will discourage burning – you can drink, you can party, you can scream, but you cannot burn,” Hunt said.

In just a few minutes, things can get out of a control. This past weekend, nine people died from a house fire in Charleston. There were no working smoke detectors in the home.

Hunt said he doesn’t want an incident like this to have to happen in order for people to learn it’s not okay to set fires.

“Burning is just not a acceptable way of celebrating or partying,” Hunt said.

City officials were upset over the “I’m Shmacked” video that was filmed in Morgantown on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The video mostly showed students drinking, but there were also some brief scenes of fires. Hunt said he thinks there’s been a bit of overreaction to the video.

“For the first three months of the school year, Sunnyside had been surprisingly without incident,” Hunt said. “During the first three months of 2012, we’ve had students who volunteered – 300 who volunteered [to clean up]. A lot of good stuff happening.”

But then 35 fires were set St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

“We had two days with [fires] that could have been much worse,” Hunt said. “It’s not to say it wasn’t serious. … For 88 of the 90 days, they were as good as students as you could find.”

Hunt said there would have been fires on the weekend anyway, but he heard reports of people driving around ahead of the I’m Shmacked film crew, and that maybe only a handful of people were actually starting the fires.

“If you’re going to bash the students for those two days, you have to give them credit for the 88 days they weren’t burning,” Hunt said.

Below is Sunnyside Up’s Facebook status, which was posted Monday afternoon.

– Leann

News Round-Up March 16, 2012

I apologize for the lack of posts this week. I’ve been sick, and decided to try to take it easy instead of stressing myself out over updating.

Unfortunately, that means I missed this week’s Sunnyside Up board of directors meeting. According to the Dominion Post, the board discussed a plan to improve sidewalks and lighting on McLane Ave. The full article is available here – “Group looks to upgrade McLane Ave.

Also in the news this week:

  • New Jersey resident charged with malicious burning in Morgantown – WBOY –  David F. Hotaling, of West Caldwell, N.J., was charged with malicious burning for a fire that damaged a sidewalk on Grant Avenue. Hotaling was cited at approximately 3:03 a.m. on March 12 by Lt. Jason Quinn.
  • Officials can’t tell what caused Mason St. blazeThe Dominion Post – The vacant apartment that caught fire is owned by Tina Walden, Gary Walden‘s wife. Here’s a screen shot of the brief:
  • Bedbug cost? $65 per UNL residentKearneyHub.com –  The University of Nebraska-Lincoln spent nearly $400,000 — roughly $65 per resident — to track down and eradicate bedbugs in its student housing.

– Leann

How students view Sunnyside, via memes

I feel like all current West Virginia University students, as well as alumni, have probably seen WVU Memes pop up in their Facebook news feed over the last month or so.

A meme is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture,” according to the always reliable Wikipedia (kidding.) In the Internet world, when people refer to memes they typically are talking about a photo with text over top of it that’s supposed to be funny.

It’s actually much harder to describe what a meme is than I thought. So instead of explaining further, I’ll just get to the point.

I’ve found a few memes on the WVU Memes Facebook page that are related to Sunnyside, and I thought I would share since it’s interesting to see how students’ feel about the area.

This one from “The Lion King” is my favorite:

I feel this next one needs a little background information. When it was announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed, 21 fires were set in town as “celebration.” You can read more about it from this Associated Press article – “Fires light up Morgantown to mark bin Laden death.”

This last one isn’t related to Sunnyside, but The Ridge is off-campus student housing. This meme is called “First World Problems,” which is when someone complains about something that’s slightly annoying.

If I find any more memes related to Sunnyside, I’ll be sure to post.

Oh, and have I mentioned that Inspecting Sunnyside has a Facebook page, as well?! Shameless promotion!

– Leann