College sees rise in dorm damage

MIDDLEBURY — Between September 2010 and the end of March, the Middlebury College campus fell victim to nearly $70,000 worth of damage to its dormitories, leaving administrators scratching their heads.
With another month and a half to go in the school year, the current price tag for repairing that damage sets the college on track for an increase in overall dormitory damage. This will be the third year in a row Middlebury College has seen a rise in that expense.
According to Sarah Ray, director of public affairs at the college, dormitory damage totaled $85,433 during the academic year of 2007 to 2008. The following year, the total was $88,673, and last year it jumped to $97,961.
And though the current figure, $69,085, is still far off last year’s mark, damage in student rooms is often not discovered until after students have moved out in May. Last spring, facilities personnel discovered close to $27,000 worth of dormitory damage after students moved out, a portion of which includes misplaced and lost furniture.
The tally also does not include the cost of repairs following a fire lit in a trash can in Gifford Hall this winter, which the administration said cost upwards of $3,500.
Ray said that dormitory damage does not have a separate allocation in the school’s budget — the cost of repairs come out of the general maintenance fund.
Dean of Students Shirley Collado said that while the administration is unsure what is causing the increases in dormitory damage, it is making every effort to hold students responsible for their actions.
“Students found responsible for damaging any college property or facilities are held accountable and subject to college discipline and fines,” Collado said in an email.
Damage found in personal rooms at the end of the year is charged to the student whose room it is, offsetting the total damage cost.
But Collado said that when there is no responsible party, a larger group may be forced to split that cost.
This is not the only area where the administration is struggling with student responsibility for school property. Earlier this year, the college’s department of communications launched a series of YouTube videos introducing the character “Aunt Des.” The comically abrasive character admonished students for what the college’s dining services department says are $50,000 in dishes, cups and silverware that go missing from college dining halls each year.
In November, Tim Parsons, landscape horticulturalist at the college, wrote a post on his blog about the 18 trees that had been vandalized in fewer than three months — and in January, Parsons reported that it had started happening again. In March, the Middlebury Campus newspaper reported that tree damage totaled between $6,000 and $8,000 for the year.
Still, according to Sgt. Jason Covey of the Middlebury Police Department, student vandalism tends to be isolated to college property. Anecdotally, he said that apart from the occasional stolen road sign, the isolated incidents where the police must deal with students tend to be less serious.
“Issues with students are usually minor — open containers, public urination, walking in the roadway,” he said. “That’s the type of issue we run into, as opposed to vandalism.”
Back on campus, however, the administration is working to reign in costly vandalism issues.
“We are working with students to emphasize responsibility, and what it means to be part of a residential learning community,” Collado said. “I think it’s critical that students step up and hold their peers accountable for behavior that negatively impacts our community.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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