WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - UNCW students are settling into their new room assignments some 30 minutes from campus after some were forced to move out of University Apartments.
School officials announced Friday that University Apartments would be closed “indefinitely” due to damage from Hurricane Florence. Around 400 displaced students were assigned to hotels, off-campus apartments, or an on-campus space. University officials even converted some on-campus lounges in dorms into rooms.
The hotels include Golden Sands in Carolina Beach and the Fairfield Inn in Wilmington. Students started moving their things out of University Apartments over the weekend, and have until Oct. 23 to complete their move.
They also have the option to cancel their housing contracts if they choose to find housing on their own and will get a prorated refund. The same goes for meal plans.
University officials said in a Facebook post they “exhausted every possibility for long-term blocks of hotel rooms and apartments” within an hour of UNCW. They said space has been limited due to post-storm contractors and displaced residents needing housing as well.
Chancellor Jose Sartarelli has been visiting on and off-campus housing and sent a letter to displaced students thanking them for their patience.
The letter read in part, “there are no magic answers in times like these. I did want to reach out and thank you, though, for your patience and collaboration as we sought alternative housing for you all. The situation is far from ideal, as you’ve heard us say, and as resilient as you’ve been, you should not have had to be focused on anything right now beyond your academics, enjoying your college experience, and considering your options for the future. I am deeply sorry for these circumstances.”
Students will still make payments for housing through UNCW as long as they are living in a space arranged by the university.
Freshman Laura Keel moved into the Golden Sands in Carolina Beach on Saturday. It’s about 30 minutes from campus, where a lot of students have meal plans and are able to get food. A shuttle comes once an hour and brings students to and from campus.
Keel said she knows the university is doing the best it can, but feels like she was forced from her home.
“I get that the hurricane was unpredictable and the damage is unpredictable and the university had no way of knowing what was going to happen, but given that we’re at the beach I would’ve hoped that they would’ve had a better planning system for these kind of events," Keel said. “But they did their best and they’re continuing to do their best by me.”
The manager at Golden Sands wants parents and students to know the hotel has someone on call 24/7 and safety is her No. 1 priority.
“Me being a mother of two girls, I can imagine how they feel," Jean Gooden said, referring to students' parents. “I would be panic stricken knowing my 18-year-old was staying down here, but we have always pushed ourselves as family oriented here anyways and we’re just trying to assure them that we are.”
Keel just moved in Saturday, but moved again Monday to an apartment closer to campus. She said after the shuttle taking students to and from campus was late and caused her to miss class Monday, she went to the Housing and Residence Life office to ask to be moved closer to UNCW.
She was moved to the Camden off-campus apartments.
Keel said the experience has helped her decide to move away from UNCW by the end of the semester. She planned to transfer after two years to a school with a medical program, but Florence fast-forwarded that decision.
“The weather is unpredictable. Another hurricane could happen next year, and it could be like this all over again, so I might as well transfer now and be safe from all of that," she said.
Freshman Gina McAllister now lives in the Golden Sands Motel after being displaced from University Apartments. She said she’ll downgrade her meal plan living 30 minutes away, and is trying to look at the positives.
“It is nice because, from campus, I’d have to drive 10 minutes to the beach and pay for parking, but now I live right on it, so I can walk right down there and my bed has the view from the balcony so I can see the ocean every morning," McAllister said.
McAllister and her roommates are trying to find an off-campus apartment and then plan to terminate their housing contracts with UNCW.
WECT reached out to UNCW regarding the students' concerns over the late shuttle, but hadn’t heard back at the time this story was published.
University officials posted a FAQ to answer students' and parents' questions. They also said to email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.