By Emma Way
A fire tore through Washington College’s Business Office and the Office of Information Technologies on the night of Aug. 15. The college community was left questioning what comes next?
A stray cigarette outside the building allegedly started flames that spread from the bushes to the attic of the rental building located on 515 Washington Ave. according to the Fire Marshal’s Office and security camera footage from the building.
The fire was first reported around 8 p.m. and took Chestertown’s Volunteer Fire Company and other stations from Delaware and Maryland hours to put out. “Engines responded from Cecilton, Betterton, River City, Kennedyville, Chestertown, Church Hill, Centreville, and Dover, Del. but many more were present… Every time one fire was quelled, another would tear its way through the roof elsewhere,” said sophomore Jusden Messick.
Finally, after nearly three hours, firefighters gained control of the fire. Operations Supervisor for Public Safety and member of the Emergency Operations Group (EOG) on campus Sue Golinski was able to see the fire and lend a hand to Public Safety officers directing traffic that night. She said, “Just seeing that familiar building go up, it was shocking and so sad.”
Despite the tragic nature of losing a part of WC, the college continued as normal come Monday. “What most people don’t know is that…the servers there are redundant so they’re completely unaffected by the fire,” said Vice President for Finance and Administration Mark Hampton. “Similarly our Business Office is very good at processing payments and keeping ahead of payroll so they’re on top of all of these things.”
A top priority after the fire is now to relocate the employees in temporary offices and find a more permanent location.
Right now the Business Office and OIT employees are scattered throughout campus, but the largest group of staff members have been moved to the Skybox above the Kibler Stadium. This is just a short-term solution as the Skybox is a heavily used area for various sports programs throughout the year.
According to Scott Cowdrey, WC’s new Chief Information Officer, most of the Business Office staff will be moving into the house located at 309 Washington Ave by mid-September. This space will be used as the new Business Office for approximately one year, after which they need to find a more permanent location.
“The hope is to get the Business Office, OIT, and HR into the same building,” said Cowdrey. “We’d like to have services for both students and employees in the same place.”
Although operations have continued as normal, the college still lost tens of thousands of dollars in equipment that was ready for distribution throughout campus and 24 offices full of computers, furniture, spare parts, and priceless personal items, said Cowdrey.
As previously reported by The Associated Press and confirmed by the College, the fire is estimated to have caused $3.5 million in damages in total. This number is accounting for the building itself, which was leased by WC and owned by The Hogans Agency Inc. No decision has been made about whether Hogans will rebuild the property or not, or whether WC will lease the property again for their offices.
The next step is recovery. Two trailers and a professional recovery crew have been deployed on the site to recover any remaining hard drives, equipment, and personal effects.
Hampton has confidence that the College will continue to see almost no discontinuity in operations in the months to come. He said, “There certainly are challenges to overcome, but the core functions of the college are completely unimpacted by this thanks to the planning and preparation of those two offices.”
Although the aftermath of the fire is still developing, said Cowdrey, the College has rallied together to face this unfortunate circumstance together.