Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

A fire broke out on the third floor of Collegetown Center, an apartment complex which houses many Cornell students. A Red Cross disaster relief vehicle was parked outside Willard Straight, an evacuation site for Collegetown Center student residents.

December 6, 2022

Early Morning Fire in Collegetown Apartment Building Leaves Some Students Displaced

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This story has been updated.

Early Monday morning, a fire began at Collegetown Center, an apartment complex on Dryden Road that many students reside in. Residents of the building were safely evacuated.

The firefighters are ensuring there is no carbon monoxide before allowing people back into the building, and that the building will smell like smoke for a while.

Career Fire Lieutenant with the City of Ithaca Fire Department Tom Basher was on the scene, and addressed the residents who had been evacuated.

The residents of the fourth, fifth and sixth floors will be able to re-enter the building around 9 a.m., according to Basher. However, the third floor and below have to be checked for water damage, caused by the fire suppression system, before the firefighters determine if people can re-enter the building.

Basher said that the University has been notified of the incident and would work on any needs the students impacted by this may have. It is unclear if the floors below the third floor will be habitable for residents to return.

“We have been ahead of the game with everything trying to get things and anticipating all of these needs,” Basher said.

According to Basher, the fire began on the west wing of the building, and was in a room on the third floor. The occupant of the room also got out safely. One individual was treated and transported to the hospital for smoke inhalation, according to a statement from Lt. Jim Wheal, but no other injuries were reported.

11 a.m. Update:

As of 11 a.m., residents still have not been able to re-enter the building. Ithaca Fire Department fire investigation crews, building crews and the Ithaca Building Department are working through

the building to see what areas are safe, according to Lt. Wheal. 

Residents of the building evacuated between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., waiting in Collegetown Bagels until the building was safe to re-enter, according to Dani Smith ’24, a Collegetown Center resident. All residents were instructed to wait together in the same location so that firefighters could keep track of everyone.

“A lot of us got details about the origin of the fire, possible damage, and when we might be able to re-enter from Reddit and Sidechat, including me,” Smith said. “However, after 3 hours or so of waiting they started sending out officers and fire personnel around Collegetown locations to try to update residents on the situation.”

An 8:48 a.m. email to residents informed them that the Salvation Army was parked near the building’s rental office, providing hot chocolate, coffee and snacks to residents.

Smith said that she and many other students living in the building are worried about whether professors will accommodate absences and late assignments due to the emergency.

“Even though we should be focused on the emergency, a lot of us are just worried about exams and whether professors will be flexible with makeup work,” Smith said.

According to the fire department, the University will be temporarily placing students displaced from the fire in Willard Straight Hall. The University has been in communication with students who are being affected by the fire. 

12:00 p.m. Update:

According to Smith, evacuated students were told that they will be notified by 1 p.m. this afternoon at the earliest about whether their apartment is safe to re-enter.

“They are bussing people to Willard Straight and listing off rooms that are occupiable [or] in occupiable at like 1 p.m. earliest,” Smith said.

2:00 p.m. Update:

A 1 p.m. email sent to tenants from the Ithaca Renting Company detailed the damage to the building and which apartments were safe for residents to re-enter.

There is smoke and water damage throughout the building, with service professionals brought in to assist with clean-up and repair.

According to the email, the first, second and third floors of the building were heavily damaged due to smoke and water, making them currently uninhabitable. Although the renting company estimates that some apartments on the floor will be repaired within a week, others faced more damage and are still being evaluated. Tenants are not permitted to access the second and third floors.

Residents whose apartments have been deemed uninhabitable may enter the building to collect their belongings and must be escorted by a staff member. Tenants may gather their belongings until 6 p.m. tonight, with escort assistance restarting tomorrow at 9 a.m.

On the fourth through sixth floors, six rooms were damaged by smoke and need to be repaired, which is estimated to take until Dec. 8. The other apartments on these floors are not damaged, and the email states that the City of Ithaca indicated that these residents could resume occupancy at 1 p.m. 

Renting company staff attended a 1 p.m. meeting at Willard Straight Hall to provide updates on the situation.

“I asked them, ‘Do you plan on refunding rent to help people displace a week or longer afford hotel costs while they aren’t allowed in their rooms,’ during the meeting,” Smith said. “They dodged the question but clearly said ‘No, hope you have renter’s insurance.’” 

The email instructs residents to check their renter’s insurance coverage to determine whether they will receive reimbursement for seeking alternative living accommodations while repairs are made. The Marriott Hotel has also announced that they will make space for students at a reduced rate. 

Smith said that, following her question, an Ithaca City Council member posed a similar question, in response to which the renting staff dismissed the idea to refund rent and referenced other organizations to which students could turn. In the email, they indicated that students could turn to the Red Cross for assistance.

6:00 p.m. Update:

In a statement to The Sun, the University said that affected students are receiving temporary support through campus housing and dining.

“We are in contact with the affected students and we continue to support their immediate needs. As of now, 80 students have been impacted and are being offered temporary housing and dining accommodations in our residences and through campus dining,” the statement read. 

The University invited impacted students to reach out directly to Student Support and Advocacy Services with questions or additional support at [email protected] or by phone (607) 254-8598.

Aaron Snyder ’23 contributed reporting.