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Sub(terranean)-free: Fire safety concern closes Howell House basement

October 20, 2023

Due to a fire safety concern, part of Howell House’s basement was indefinitely closed today. Concerns about 005 Howell, a small room that sits adjacent to the house’s larger basement space, arose after the College’s maintenance crew attempted to install a new speaker system in the space.

In Maine, the fire safety code requires that spaces used for assembly have two means of egress or exits. With only one door and no windows, 005 fails to meet these requirements.

This isn’t the first time that room 005 has been closed, however. According to Residential Life (ResLife), 005 was originally closed in the late 1990s, when the Alpha Delta house was acquired by the College and turned into Howell House. The door to 005 was opened at some point since then, but that date is unclear. Neither ResLife nor Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) could point to an exact date on which the door was opened.

“It is most likely that this space was opened in error when we reopened basement spaces that were locked during [Covid-19], when access to these gathering spaces was restricted,” Director of EHS Charly Wojtysiak wrote in an email to the Orient.

“Everyone in the house assumed it was supposed to be open,” Assistant Director of Residential Life Alex Gates ’22 said. “It was a surprise to our office.”

Residents were notified last Monday. With 005 being closed, Gates said that ResLife is working closely with Howell residents in order to adjust programming for the College’s only substance-free College House. Potential ideas include removing the pool table from the remaining basement room or hosting events on the house’s main floor.

“Burnett and Helm don’t have basements, but they are still able to host events of decent scale,” Gates, a former Howell House resident, said.

Although the College currently has no plans in place to renovate 005 or Howell, Wojtysiak said that the EHS is working on installing “panic hardware”—an industry term for fire-safe doors—in the house.


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