UW-L fire displaces students for a little while longer

LA CROSSE, Wis.–UW-L students living in Drake hall will have to wait a little while longer than originally thought before they can move back into their rooms.

School officials had hoped to get the students back in the dorm within a matter of days, but now say it could be weeks.

Since Sunday’s fire, the university has helped students find alternative housing while the fire is being investigated and cleaning and repairs take place.

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Tuesday, university officials announced it could be another two to four weeks before students can return to Drake Hall, but some students are trying to make the best of a not-so-ideal situation.

“Yeah, this is my new home,” said Doug Meyer, a student displaced from the fire.

It’s not exactly what Meyer’s room in Drake Hall looks like, but for now, a corner in another residence hall it will have to do.

“I’ve kind of lined it up here, so this is my little corner now,” said Meyer.

Meyer is one of the nearly 300 students displaced after a fire broke out early Sunday in the basement of Drake Hall. He’s staying with some friends in a nearby residence hall for the time being.

“All of the walls are covered in soot,” said UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow.

Gow said the damage to the hall’s basement was worse than expected.

Now, it’s the university’s top priority to find long term temporary housing for those students.

“We want to make sure that we get them placed in other residence halls and some of the other faculty and staff have kindly volunteered space in their homes and get maybe even some people in hotels and get everybody situated and make sure they have what they need and support them through this,” said Gow.

The university has also converted classrooms into alternative places for students to stay, providing them with the essentials such as cots, sheets, toothbrushes and laundry detergent.

Even with 13 new roommates, it’s an option Sarah O’Brien and Lauren Mobley don’t seem to mind. 

“It’s almost like a big slumber party,” said O’Brien. “Just chilling out in the classroom.”

“What else can we do?” said Mobley. “We can’t control it, we might as well go with the flow.”

And as far as living in their new home away from home for longer than expected, these students don’t seem to mind that very much either. 

“Every other problem that they’re finding, they need to get it fixed before any residence can actually live in there because we don’t want to be living in an unsafe environment and I know the university would not do that at all,” said O’Brien.

The university is also providing displaced students with laundry reimbursement money as well as commuter parking permits if students are living off campus for the time being.

It will take another couple of days before the fire department can finish its investigation into the cause of the fire.

“Just standard procedure, anytime you’re investigating a fire you don’t want to miss anything,” said Division Chief Craig Snyder of the La Crosse Fire Department. “So, we’re trying methodical, meticulous at what we do. We’re not ruling out anything which means we have a lot of avenues that we have to look down before we can rule it out, and these things just take time.”