Power outage forces Mount Vernon Campus closure

With city officials struggling to restore electricity to the Mount Vernon Campus, GW canceled the campus’ Monday classes and relocated its Tuesday classes to Foggy Bottom facilities. Most of Mount Vernon’s 350 residents were moved to local hotels Saturday afternoon, and the rest are staying with friends at Foggy Bottom.

Most of the Foxhall neighborhood, where Mount Vernon is located, has been in the dark since Thursday night, when a tree fell onto a campus power line as Hurricane Isabel tore through D.C. While several trees, including one in front of Mitchell Hall, fell in Foggy Bottom, the area was spared the brunt of the storm.

Bob Ludwig, interim director of media relations, said the decision to cancel and relocate classes is final, regardless of whether Mount Vernon regains power.

Tuesday classes scheduled for Mount Vernon are set to be held mainly at 2020 K St., where several classes are taught each semester. Laboratory classes will be moved to other academic buildings, said Robert Chernak, senior vice president for students and academic support services.

Chernak said the classroom relocations will “stay in place” until the power is restored at Mount Vernon.

Officials said students should visit the Campus Advisories page of the University’s Web site at http://www.gwu.edu/~gwalert to stay updated on classroom relocations.

Associate Dean of Students Jan Mitchell-Sherill said there are 200 students staying in area hotels and 150 boarding with friends.

He said the students staying in six area hotels would be there until Monday, when they will either return to Mount Vernon or be housed at the 4-H Conference Center, located in Chevy Chase, Md. Students are being temporarily housed in the State Plaza Hotel, Washington Suites, Marriot Hotel, Best Western Hotel, Doubletree Hotel and the Melrose Hotel, all of which are located on or near campus.

Sherill said students must be moved Monday because the hotels are booked through the business week. He said GW would make a decision on whether to house students in Chevy Chase at noon Monday if power has not been restored to Mount Vernon at that point. Arrangements are being made for shuttles to take students to and from campus.

“It’s really not appropriate to have students go back to Mount Vernon until the power gets restored,” said Chernak, adding that Pepco, which provides electricity for all of D.C. and most of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, has not told the University when the blackout will end.

Camille Smith, a Pepco media representative, said she could not give an estimate for when power would be restored to Foxhall, adding that it could be Friday before electricity comes back to the entire District.

Students will be given a choice to go to Chevy Chase or stay with friends, said Sherill, who added that the 4-H Conference Center could house all 350 students. The facility is located at 7100 Connecticut Ave. near the Friendship Heights Metro stop. Sherill said the University would provide shuttle service to and from the center.

He said 4-H rooms have Internet connections, cable television and study areas.

The relocation of students to Foggy Bottom comes several days after Mount Vernon went dark at 11 p.m. Thursday. Until students were evacuated from the campus Saturday afternoon, emergency generators were supplying five of six residence halls with enough power to light hallways and stairwells. Rooms were devoid of all electricity and hot water.

Chernak said he was unsure why Pelham Hall, which houses about 60 students, was not hooked up to a generator. Several calls placed by The Hatchet to Walter Gray, director of facilities management, went unanswered.

On Friday, before University officials determined that the blackout would last more than a few days, Mount Vernon residents were encouraged to either stay on the campus or with friends living at Foggy Bottom.

“That was an OK situation if it was only going to be a couple of days,” Chernak said.

“It was getting to enough of a point … that it didn’t make sense to sustain operations there,” he added.

Chernak said while the University made preparations for a blackout at Mount Vernon, it expected Pepco to correct the situation within a few days.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, 65,000 customers in the District were still without power, according to Pepco statistics.

Dave Morehead, senior communications representative for Pepco, said 530,000 customers were without power Friday.

He said Pepco is making an “all-out effort” to restore electricity to its customers, bringing in repair crews from as far away as Mississippi to deal with the blackout, which he called “unprecedented” in the company’s 100 years.

After restoring power to critical places like hospitals and police and fire stations, Pepco is focusing on bringing electricity back to residential neighborhoods, Morehead said.

“(But) it’s hard to say when specific areas or neighborhoods will come up,” he said.

Morehead said areas such as Foxhall – where power lines are above ground – are more susceptible to outages than Foggy Bottom, which has underground lines that are less prone to being harmed by falling trees.

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