In Tornado's Aftermath, Difficult Decisions for 2 North Carolina Colleges

Shaw U.

At Shaw U., a tornado destroyed half of the student center's roof and shattered windows. There were no reports of deaths or injuries at either Shaw or nearby Saint Augustine's College.
April 19, 2011

Two North Carolina colleges are hard at work this week recovering from a tornado that devastated parts of Raleigh on Saturday. Shaw University has canceled the rest of the spring semester, while Saint Augustine's College resumed classes Tuesday.

Neither institution has an estimate yet of what repairs will cost, but Shaw, which enrolls about 2,700 students, sustained heavier damage. Half of the student center's roof is gone, said Sherri Fillingham, a university spokeswoman, and the building's glass windows and doors have all been shattered. The student center housed the university's dining hall, which Ms. Fillingham said is the main reason administrators decided to end the semester early. "We could've found other places for the students to live," she said. "We can't feed them."

The campus, occupying about eight square blocks in the heart of Raleigh, offers few other dining options for students. Ms. Fillingham said there is one McDonald's, also damaged by the storm, and "probably two or three" other restaurants in the area, but they could not have fed all of the students on the university's meal plan.

"We had very little time left in the semester," Ms. Fillingham said. "It's not a decision we agonized over." But ending the semester early created a host of new problems the university is now working to solve. Students' grades will be determined by the work they've done so far this semester, but that could harm those who had been hoping to raise their grades during finals. Ms. Fillingham said the university had asked professors to give the benefit of the doubt to struggling students who may have been counting on the final exam.

At a faculty meeting Monday, she said, professors were told that "if there's a student with a borderline grade, give them an extra-credit assignment or administer a test online."

Meanwhile, the university is focused on assessing the damage and helping students in need. Other buildings were damaged as well—the copper sheathing the roof of Estey Hall, an office building, had been blown off, and many windows in the dorms were shattered. Many out-of-state and international students were stranded in Raleigh, but the university's alumni association quickly began raising money to help send them home early. The gym is being used as a Red Cross shelter, and some students are being housed in dorms that were undamaged.

The university established a relief fund Monday, and administrators are hoping to raise more than $1-million, Ms. Fillingham said, adding that local businesses have already expressed interest in helping out. The university will be soliciting donations online starting Wednesday.

Damage at a Neighboring College

Saint Augustine's College, which has about 1,500 students and is just two miles from Shaw, was more fortunate. The tornado knocked out power in two dorms, upended trees, and did some roof damage, but officials say none of this was serious enough to warrant closing down for the semester. On Tuesday, after three days of round-the-clock repair and restoration, students and faculty members went back to class. "We felt we could get the campus to a point where we could finish these last two weeks," said Marc Newman, the college's vice president of institutional advancement and development.

Mr. Newman said more than 50 campus trees were uprooted, and two dorms housing more than 300 students lost power, although the local electric company promised to restore power by the end of Tuesday. Shingles and roof tiles were been pulled off some buildings, and the turf was lifted off the college's new football and track facility.

Some of the worst damage was done to the campus's historical landmarks, which hark back to the college's founding in 1867 as an institution for newly freed slaves. Much of the original stained glass in the college's 116-year-old chapel was shattered, Mr. Newman said.

Major repairs and renovations will be addressed over the summer, Mr. Newman said. For now, administrators are just happy to allow students to finish out the year.

"At the end of the day, our goals were to complete this year and provide a safe environment for our students," he said. "I think we've done that."