Three days have passed since Hurricane Sandy knocked out electricity in all of The New School’s student dorms, and most of their academic buildings. In that time, President David Van Zandt has cancelled the rest of the week’s classes; William Street dorm tenants have evacuated their residences; and over 100 of the university’s students have trekked to Arnhold Hall for food, heat, electricity, Internet access and shelter.
The building – located at 55 W. 13th St., between Fifth and Sixth Avenues – remained open since Monday afternoon, just before nearly 25 percent of Consolidated Edison’s New York City customers lost power. Students brought blankets and pillows, as well as electrical items like laptops and chargers. New School facilities director Thomas Whalen said Wednesday that the building is conserving enough generator electricity to maintain power until ConEd restores it.
“This building will not close, nor shut its doors until the power goes on in the other facilities” Whalen said. “Until then, we will be keeping our students safe and comfortable in here.”
Roughly 1,500 New School students live in university housing facilities. Aside from the evacuation of the William Street Residence, there is limited water supply and no electricity at the 20th Street, 13th Street, Loeb and Stuyvesant residence halls. Of all the university’s other facilities, only the Mannes Building on West 85th Street and the Parsons-operated David Schwartz Center at 560 Seventh Avenue are functional, but neither is providing student services.
William Street residents are alternating between Arnhold Hall and Pace University’s One Pace Plaza complex, across from City Hall, for shelter. Pace has permitted New School students into their facilities since Tuesday’s dorm evacuations.
Once William Street resident advisor Will Carter learned about his building’s evacuation plans, he started knocking on suite doors. He is responsible for two floors in the 17-story, 400-student residence hall.
“A lot of people were just really eager to get out,” said Carter. “The process could have gone much smoother. But given the amount of residents, that was very difficult to do.”
Culinary services provider Chartwells is suppling food and refreshments inside Arnhold Hall’s lobby, despite limited supplies. Only one refrigerator is available to keep ingredients cold. Though the open nature of the ground floor prevents cooking, company chefs are gathering and preparing cold dishes, including salad and sushi, in an external kitchen. Heath Braunstein, Chartwells’s director of dining services, expects food supplies to last the building until the beginning of next week.
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to provide,” he said. “Whoever has come here wanting food, we have what they need.”
Across Manhattan, over 250,000 homes and businesses remain in the dark. ConEd has yet to establish a firm estimate on when power will be restored. The entire Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway system is operating with limited service, after corrosive saltwater flooded its tracks. Many of the city’s roughly 5.5 million subway riders resorted to walking, hailing a cab or riding a bus. On Wednesday, city streets turned to gridlock as thousands of city-dwellers attempted to return to their homes. In some cases, drivers maneuvered their vehicles across curbs to keep moving.
Few New School students expected to experience such disorder in New York.
“When we made the choice to come to The New School, we made the choice to build our lives in a thriving city of major importance and precarious stability,” University Student Senate Co-Chairs Jens Astrup, Tavish Gallagher and Katherine Towell wrote in a joint statement to the Free Press. “This week we learned just how quickly that stability can be undermined.”
In a mass email sent to students late Wednesday afternoon, Van Zandt expressed his pleasure with university morale.
“Witnessing the upbeat energy at 55 W. 13th Street, you would never have imagined the darkness outside,” wrote Van Zandt. “Students stood in groups, offering strangers something to eat and passing newly charged cell phones back and forth for calls to family and friends out-of-state.”
But cell phone service has been mixed across much of the Northeast. Jane Gardner, a Loeb resident and a junior at Parsons, tried calling her immediate family just after her power went out Monday night. After nearly a dozen attempts, she finally heard her mother’s voice. Then her reception cut off. She has tried calling back several times, but has yet to do so successfully.
“Just to hear my mom’s voice brought my hopes up, because reaching her took such a long time,” said Gardner. “And then for service to stop like that was upsetting.”
University online services like MyNewSchool and Blackboard returned to normal late Tuesday. After spending most of his day at Arnhold Hall that afternoon, Van Zandt reported noticing students logging on and returning to their studies.
“I was heartened to see many eagerly returning to coursework, putting the hurricane squarely in the past,” he said.
Additional reporting by Charlotte Woods