Aston residents detail turbulent year of maintenance issues

Media Credit: Danielle Towers | Assistant Photo Editor

Aston residents said they've dealt with frequent water outages, elevator malfunctions, leaks and poor communication from housing officials.

About midway through the spring semester, senior Christina Chen’s closet in The Aston had flooded with water seeping in from the building’s laundry room on the opposite side of the wall.

Chen, a senior biomedical engineering student who lives next to the laundry room, said three times this spring, flooding would coincide with students running loads of laundry, forcing her to rush to prevent flooding damage in her unit. The flooding is just one of numerous issues – including frequent water outages, elevator malfunctions, leaks and poor communication from housing officials – that students living in The Aston have said they faced during this academic year.

“It’s not just facilities issues,” Chen said. “This is a living experience issue.”

Dozens of students in The Aston sent emails to housing officials last month detailing concerns over the issues like water outages and lapses in the building’s security and demanding financial compensation from the University for all residents, students said. They developed an email template that allowed residents to write messages conveying both building-wide and room-specific issues to officials.

“Due to the multitude of issues impacting just about every aspect of basic quality of living, I would like to receive substantial financial compensation since it is clear the Aston is not fit to be a residence hall,” the email’s template states.

In response, officials issued a $250 housing credit to all Aston residents last week and acknowledged some of the issues residents faced, like frequent water outages, which they attributed to the building’s old plumbing system.

“At the beginning of the year, the surge of use stressed the plumbing system of an older building in ways that we had not anticipated,” officials said in the email.

The University started housing undergraduate students in The Aston in 1996 until the building was converted into law student housing in 2007. But in 2019, the University announced it would move juniors and seniors into The Aston during the renovation process of Thurston Hall.

University spokesperson Tim Pierce said facilities teams perform “comprehensive inspections” on all residence halls twice each year. He said Amsterdam, Shenkman and South halls also experienced leaks last semester in addition to The Aston because of heavy rainfall in D.C. last fall.

“When determining a building-wide credit, GW takes into consideration how much time and challenges the students face,” Pierce said in an email.

Pierce declined to say how many students had to be evacuated due to maintenance issues, how many FixIt requests had been made during the academic year and how the University plans to address the maintenance issues.

As of last week, The Aston is the only residence hall to not have its floor plan available on the Campus Living and Residential Education website. The Aston will no longer be a residence hall next year, according to the University housing website.

Kody Borden, a junior majoring in electrical engineering, said Aston residents contacted officials about the facilities issues after learning of compensation issued to Guthridge Hall residents after water issues in 2019. He said Aston residents expected more than $250 because of yearlong maintenance issues in the building, but officials did not meet the desired amount.

“It doesn’t seem like they completely read our email considering we stated, ‘Hey, this was a one time instance and you gave $250. We’ve had this happen multiple times,’” Borden said. “I think they just kind of skimmed through and were like ‘Oh $250, let’s give him that much.’”

Borden said the facilities issues in his room started in September when leaks caused his bathroom ceiling’s paint to bubble and nearly collapse. He said maintenance officials repaired part of the ceiling but did not replace the paint for two weeks, leaving the damp drywall exposed.

“They ripped off the paint and basically just left our damp ceiling there for two weeks,” he said.

Borden said his room’s wall dents when it’s pushed or leaned on, which FixIt workers attributed to rusted metal behind the wall, which causes metal frames to weaken. He said officials told him to not lean on the wall, but he said the weakened wall frame still caused a soap holder in his shower to fall off the wall while he was showering, nearly hitting his foot.

“They didn’t communicate with us or anything so we got back from winter break and were like ‘Hey, is our wall fixed?’” Borden said. “They had replaced our soap holder thingy, but they just kind of said ‘Yeah, don’t lean on the wall. We’re not fixing it.’”

Four residents – including Ally Grijalba, a senior majoring in political science – said the building’s floors are also accessible to the public because of a malfunctioning GWorld scanner near the elevator, which residents noticed last week.

Grijalba said she and several others were also trapped in the building’s elevators on a near-daily basis toward the end of the fall semester.

“Getting stuck on the elevator wasn’t really fun,” Grijalba said. “That’s happened to me, and I know it’s happened to a couple of people in the building.”

Ruby Lunsford, a senior majoring in international affairs and Japanese, said maintenance officials took 27 days to address a FixIt request to remove what appeared to be mold from her bathroom ceiling in November. She said she expected a faster response from officials because of the high volume of mold-related reports on campus earlier in the year.

Lunsford said they made FixIt requests for the card reader when they noticed the broken security scanner, but officials have yet to respond.

“It just took so much pushing and pushing just to get the littlest thing done,” Lunsford said. “At first when I read the email about the bathroom, their response was, ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I can offer you a Starbucks gift card. Have a nice rest of the semester,’ which definitely said a lot.”

In their response to the emails sent from The Aston’s residents, officials claimed that the facilities team had found “penicillium/aspergillus,” a type of fungal growth, during a search of the building after extensive leaks but found “no traces” of black mold, a significantly more toxic strain of fungal growth.

Lunsford said the response, which stated that other residence halls had experienced water complications, minimized the issues Aston residents faced.

“‘Several of our other residence halls have experienced water damage from roof leaks,’” Lunsford said, quoting the email sent by officials. “OK. So what, just because other people are going through that, does that mean that our problems don’t matter?”

Lunsford said she sent repeated emails to maintenance officials while they took a month to address a FixIt request she made in the spring about a brown liquid that had appeared in her refrigerator.

“I made that FixIt at the end of January because I noticed that it kept happening, all of the lids on all the stuff on our fridge was full of liquid spilling over, and they didn’t do anything,” she said.

Ya’nassia Whetstone, a junior majoring in psychology, said she was “upset” at issues like flooding in her closet located adjacent to a washing machine. She said she chose The Aston – the lowest priced residence hall exclusively housing juniors and seniors – because of its affordability, but the building’s $5,000 to $6,000 cost still isn’t worth the living conditions she deemed disappointing.

“You would think that the building would be up to par given the money that we are paying,” Whetstone said.

Annie O’Brien and Zach Blackburn contributed reporting

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