GW Catholics displaced after cold weather damages pipes, heat in townhouse

Media Credit: Kiana Lee | Hatchet Photographer

Sarah Gavieres, the president of GW Catholics, said the damage to her organization's building was unexpected because the center hadn’t previously experienced structural issues.

Updated: Jan. 29, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

GW Catholics was forced to evacuate its campus townhouse this month after extreme cold wreaked havoc on the building during winter break.

The GW Newman Center, located on F Street, suffered burst pipes, cracked radiators, a broken boiler and water damage during a cold snap over the month-long break. Students involved in the organization said the maintenance issues caused significant damage to the already-fragile structure, requiring extensive renovations to the building.

The group has temporarily relocated to a nearby church and is holding more events on campus while crews repair the damage. Leaders of the organization said there is no set timeline for repairs.

Rev. Charles Gallagher, GW Catholics’ campus chaplain, sent an email to membership earlier this month saying that “severe cold,” the most extreme the city has experienced in 70 years, caused the damage. In the email, which was obtained by The Hatchet, Gallagher said the building will need new plumbing and heating systems.

The organization is asking for monthly donations on its website to fund the repairs.

“Even though this change presents challenges, I am confident that our staff, missionaries and student leaders will be able to carry on our mission with more zeal than ever,” he said in the email.

Gallagher said the building is without heat and running water but is structurally sound. In addition to repairs to the building, he said the organization will use this time to “fix up” their chapel, purchase a new altar and paint some of the walls.

Student leaders of the organization have been able to reserve on-campus spaces, like rooms in Shenkman Hall and District House, to host events.

But Gallagher said GW Catholics is still trying to find a space on campus to run their office. The organization is temporarily based out of St. Stephen Martyr Parish, located on Pennsylvania Avenue.

“One challenge is sort of holding the network of the Newman Center together because the Newman Center on F Street has really become a home away from home for many of the Catholic students on campus,” he said in an interview.

But he said hosting more events in on-campus buildings has brought increased public awareness to the group because more students pay attention to and can attend on-campus activities.

“It actually presents a benefit because it kind of gets us more to the public eye and enables us to have a bigger public presence and making students aware, who aren’t already, that there’s actually a Catholic group on campus,” he said.

It’s unclear how much renovations will cost and how long they will take because the organization is still assessing the damage, Gallagher said. He said the last time the building was renovated was in the 1950s, though he doesn’t know when it was built or how long GW Catholics has been there.

He said the University will not help pay for any repairs to the Newman Center. GW Catholics operates independently of GW.

Sarah Gavieres, the president of GW Catholics, said the damage to the building was unexpected because the center hadn’t previously experienced structural issues.

She said that because the organization is hosting more events on campus, there has been a more direct effort to invite students to events that normally wouldn’t have attended activities in the townhouse. She said the relocation hasn’t affected the importance of community within the organization.

“I think most people were just surprised and initially not sure what we were going to do, but also just despite that being like, ‘the building isn’t everything, the community is and it’s about the people and coming together,”’ Gavieres said.

Matthew Ludwig, the vice president of the group, said that while it’s a bit further to walk to the organization’s new location, which is located just past Washington Circle, the time away from the Newman Center will be used to improve the townhouse.

“I think it’s just our hope that our organization can use this time of repair and renovation to really provide our growing community not just a better space, but an environment that’s more suited to strengthen the faith of students here,” he said.

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