When returning to their dorm late one night last semester, two Philippi Hall residents found an unpleasant surprise. A few of the exit signs had been torn down, a ceiling tile had been ripped out, a bulletin board was ripped down and a large plant had been dumped over.
“The wall was covered in dirt and the floor was covered in dirt,” said Amy Swanberg, a junior business major.
“It was ridiculous,” said Deedra Beveridge, a sophomore therapeutic recreation major.
The two are roommates in Philippi Hall. Knowing that the floor would be charged for the cost of the cleanup, the two girls decided to do something about it.
“We were upset with the situation,” said Swanberg. “And we knew we’d get charged about $200 per hour for the cleaning.”
So Beveridge and Swanberg and a few others still awake on the floor started cleaning.
“There were seven or eight of us cleaning it up,” said Amy, “We scrubbed the walls with 409.”
In cases in which the University is unable to determine who is responsible for damage in a dorm, the entire floor is often charged at the end of the year.
Most of the charges that students pick up are for minor damage such as holes in the walls or broken exit signs, according to Carl Hill, assistant director of Facilities Services for the Department of Residential Life.
A hole in the wall generally costs between $40 and $60, while a new exit sign can run up to $200, according to Hill. When divided among the 60 students that can live on a floor, the cost to students is minimal, he said.
But on occasion there is more expensive damage.
Shortly before winter break, someone ripped a sink out of the wall on the third floor of Hastings Hall. In the process, a pipe was broken in the wall, spilling hundreds of gallons of water into the walls of the two floors below.
Hill said the University paid over $11,000 to repair the damage done by the vandal. Initially University officials didn’t know who was responsible for the damage and were prepared to charge students for the damage.
Eventually, however, students on the floor came forward with information about who was responsible. He is being billed for the full expense.
The $11,000 sink incident is an example of why the system is in place, according to Denise Nelson, assistant director of Residential Life.
“My assumption is that most times in a community people know who did things. They hear things. Most of the community has that info and just isn’t taking it upon themselves to act on it,” said Nelson.
She said the University policy, which is common among other Universities, forces students living in dorms to take responsibility for their living space.
“We say things like this are a community problem and you need to find a community solution. Some may not like it, but they understand,” she said.
Students aren’t happy
In general, students aren’t happy about paying for other people’s vandalism.
“I think that people who do damage to the floors and to the buildings do not understand the consequences that follow,” said Toni Burns, an undeclared sophomore. “It stinks that the rest of us who have nothing to do with it are the ones who have to suffer.”
“I believe that it is unfair for the school to make all students pay for damages to the floor if they are unsure who caused them,” said Nancy Francis, a freshman social work major.
“People who haven’t done anything wrong should not have to pay the consequences of people who are irresponsible. How does the school even know that the damage was not caused by a student from another school?”
Hill acknowledged that sometimes students from other schools are responsible for damage.
“It’s not fair for the University to have to absorb the cost,” said Hill. “If your best buddy from home came and punched a hole in your room it’s up to you to bill him.”
The University can decide to bill an individual wing, a floor or even the entire building in some cases. The decision is typically made by the resident director of each dorm.
Distinctions in damage
Hill said there are two types of damage that take place in the dorms: the routine damages that would be expected with normal wear and tear, and significant damages caused by recklessness or horseplay.
“If it is not considered a significant event then we absorb the cost of repairing it,” said Hill.
The University typically bills out around $20,000 a year in significant hall damages, according to Hill. This figure includes the costs charged to students for false fire alarms.
The University can be charged nearly $800 for a malicious fire alarm, according to Joseph Austin, director of Residential Life.
The Gorham Fire Department typically investigates to determine if the alarm went off because of students or for legitimate reasons.
“If we’re getting malicious alarms we’ll get billed by the fire department,” said Austin. “We treat it the same as unaccounted-for damages.”
Where’s the most damage?
Hill said the majority of damage usually occurs in dorms that house younger students.
“Buildings that have a high percentage of freshmen tend to have more damage than those that have a high percentage of upper-class students,” he said.
Hill said the buildings that absorb the most damage are typically Upton-Hastings and the Towers, which not only house the largest percentage of freshmen but are also the University’s largest dorms.
However, Nelson said that this year she’s surprised about problems in Gorham’s newest dorm, Philippi Hall.
“It’s disappointing to see the amount of damage in that hall,” she said.
The University was more selective than usual in choosing students to live in Philippi, giving priority to upper-classmen and those with higher GPAs.
But in general, Nelson said in her two years at USM she’s seen examples that the University policy is working.
“I’ve seen an increase in students saying ‘This is who did it’ or saying ‘I did it,’ and I’ve seen a decrease in general in damage,” she said.
Executive Editor Steve Peoples contributed to this article.
Staff Writer Tyler Stanley can be contacted at: [email protected]