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Water flooded the fifth floor of Harnwell College House on Oct.20.

Credit: Jared Mitovich

An activated fire sprinkler on the fifth floor of Harnwell College House flooded the residences of 27 students last week, causing significant damage throughout the first five floors of the building.

Water from the sprinkler leaked into multiple dorms early Wednesday morning, with the fifth floor — where the sprinkler turned on — facing the brunt of the damage, Harnwell residents said. Penn offered all of the impacted students rooms at the Sheraton Philadelphia University City until their dorms are dry enough to move back into. 

Credit: Jared Mitovich

A facilities services notice was affixed to the door of a dorm room affected by the water damage.

Twenty-three of the 27 students whose rooms flooded accepted the offer to stay at the Sheraton University City until their rooms are dry, Director of Residential Services Pat Killilee said. The Sheraton is located at 3549 Chestnut Street. 

It will likely take close to a week for the flooded rooms to finish drying with dehumidification equipment, Executive Director for Operations and Maintenance Faramarz Vakilizadeh said. Once the rooms are dried, Killilee said that the University will determine what kind of restoration work is needed, which will vary based on the room and how much it was damaged. 

The flooding began at around 3:15 a.m. Wednesday, prompting an alarm to sound and the entire college house to be evacuated, residents said. Students who lived on the fifth floor and below waited outside for about two hours in the middle of the night. 

“After we came back from the evacuation, there was probably an inch and a half of water coverage across our entire floor plan,” said College sophomore Mallory Orenstein, who lives in a suite on the fourth floor of Harnwell.

Rising fourth year Perelman School of Medicine student Debanjan Haldar, who is a graduate resident advisor on the fifth floor of Harnwell, said there was “sludgy water” everywhere on the fifth floor.

The flooding also caused damage to the lobby, with students witnessing several tiles fall to the ground.

The flooding also caused damage to the lobby, with students witnessing several tiles fall to the ground (Photo from Amanda Giannopoulos).

Built in the early 1970s, Harnwell is a residential skyscraper that houses roughly 800 sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The building previously experienced flooding in 2016, when multiple students were displaced after a sprinkler went off on the seventh floor.

Vakilizadeh said some rooms are in their final stages of drying, and students in those rooms may be allowed to move back in before the end of this week even if repairs to the trimming on the bottom of the wall are still needed.

Other rooms, however, will require more extensive repairs, Killilee said. This includes Orenstein’s suite, where she said workers have removed all of the wall trimming and appear to be completely renovating the room.

Orenstein said that she and her roommates were allowed to move into the hotel about five hours after they first witnessed flooding in their suite. She added that Penn is permitting the students to return to their residences to retrieve any personal belongings throughout their stay at the hotel.

Students said they experienced varying levels of damage to their furniture and personal belongings. Killilee said Penn gave the students whose belongings were damaged information to contact Penn’s Office of Risk Management & Insurance about any insurance claims.

Haldar his room was less damaged than others on his floor and he did not receive an offer from the University to stay at the Sheraton.

“I didn't know how bad the restoration would be. Right now there are four fans on the ground and it's pretty hard to hear myself think because it's so loud, but I didn't feel the need to request [a hotel room],” Haldar said.

Haldar said that several of his rugs, his laptop, his clothes, and his hamper got wet during the flooding. He added that his neighbors had more extensive damage to their belongings.

College sophomore Rawan Rabayah, who lives on the fourth floor of Harnwell, said she was more concerned with damage to some of her personal belongings in her bathroom than the state of her dorm. She declined the University’s offer to stay in the Sheraton because she did not think the flooding in her room was very severe.

Haldar said the Harnwell community has stuck together since Wednesday’s flood, with GRAs organizing breakfast for students who could not get back to sleep and taking other steps to keep spirits up. 

“There are people on my floor who were less affected that I've talked to that are happy it wasn't worse,” he said. “But the people who had their stuff ruined, it's at the very least the start of a very long process to replace their things and get reimbursed.”

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