Nearly 300 students to find new homes after fire

LA CROSSE, Wis.– More bad news for the nearly 300 University of Wisconsin-La Crosse students forced out of their dorm after a fire this past weekend.

The university announced Thursday they are closing Drake Hall for the rest of the semester sending those students scrambling for a place to live.

The decision to close Drake Hall wasn’t exactly what the faculty and staff wanted to do and it’s definitely not what students wanted to hear, but now the school’s main focus is cleaning up Drake Hall and rebuilding the hall’s community.

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For Drake Hall residents “moving out day” is coming sooner than expected.

“We moved back in for about a week,” said Nick Anderson, a Drake Hall resident. “We were about a week in and then the fire happened and so now we have to kind of move.”

It’s a decision UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow says will allow them enough time to get everything in the building back to normal without taking any chances.

“That’s going to take a long, long time and I think it’s better to have our students to move out now, do all the work that needs to be done to get the building back to safety and cleanliness and then say we’ll come back in the summer and the fall,” said Gow.

Now the hard part beings — finding new homes for nearly 300 displaced students.

“I’ll just sleep in my own bed than on the floor,” said Anderson.

And for Anderson, that means heading home to Sparta and commuting about 40 minutes to class for the rest of the semester.

“I think it will be easier to just go home and live there rather than relocating again with somebody possibly new in who-knows-what situation,” said Anderson.

“This is kind of like a Katrina-type of disaster,” said Nick Nicklaus, UW-L Residence Life director. “Their housing is gone.”

And Anderson’s concerns are at the top of Res Life’s list.

Nicklaus and his staff are looking place students into vacant rooms and overflow housing in other campus residence halls, hotel accommodations and even housing options at Viterbo and Western Technical College. But Nicklaus says all decisions will be made keeping the “Drake-conian” community in mind.

“We have professional obligations here to treat students with respect and dignity and meet their needs, and let’s go do that,” said Nicklaus.

Thursday night, Drake residents had to opportunity to meet for the first time since the fire. Students were able to ask questions to faculty and staff, find out information about housing reimbursement and any other concerns they had.

Students will have designated times both this weekend and next to be escorted into their rooms to grab the rest of their belongings.

The La Crosse Fire Department is still investigating what started the fire. So far, only an electrical cause has been ruled out.