AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some students will return to class for the first time Wednesday following last week’s winter storms. Austin Independent School District will return to online classes while those at the University of Texas at Austin and Austin Community College plan to reopen campuses.
Austin Community College student Carlos Lopez and his family spent more than 100 hours last week in the dark. As of Wednesday morning, running water at his apartment complex remains an issue.
“It’s hard being a college student, a parent, father, husband — trying to make sure you survive and then having to worry later about school,” Lopez said.
The El Paso native said he remembers going through the Borderland’s big freeze 10 years ago and never imagined he would live through something similar again.
“We had rolling blackouts and our school didn’t have water for like two weeks, so my wife and I planned for that and filled up our bathtub with water, filled up two-gallon containers for drinking water and set aside some firewood for our fireplace and we expected like a day maybe without power and maybe like a week without running water because of our previous experience,” he said. “But, to our surprise, we were told we were going to have rolling blackouts and we were without power since Feb. 15 at around 2 a.m. until Friday at around 10 p.m.”
For Lopez, his biggest concern was keeping his 2-year-old daughter warm.
“My daughter has a medical condition so she can’t get too cold or she can have an asthma attack,” he said.
The Austin Community College student said thankfully, the college’s closure gave him time to figure out his family’s situation. ACC leaders said they decided to close for several days in order to give students and staff time to recover but also fix damage from the winter storms at all of its 11 campuses.
From flooded bathrooms and floors at the Northridge Campus due to broken pipes to debris all over the bookstore at the Round Rock Campus, the damage was widespread. Leaking cooling towers at a couple of campuses like at the Rio Grande Campus and Eastview Campus caused extended closures.
However, Dr. Molly Beth Malcolm, the college’s executive vice president of campus operations and public affairs, said the issues could have been worse if it wasn’t for Chancellor Dr. Richard Rhodes, who moved to Austin from El Paso just like Lopez. Rhodes had also experienced the El Paso freeze a decade ago.
“We’re not used to freezing temperatures for four to five days in a row and he told me then, ‘We had all kinds of issues because we didn’t know it until we came back,’ and that’s when he said, ‘Let’s look at getting people into these buildings,’ so we did,” Malcolm explained. “We called staff that was willing to come and said, ‘Plan to camp out, you’re going to be there for three to four days,’ and it ended up being a week.”
They minimized the storms’ impact by keeping maintenance personnel and ACC police officers who volunteered at each campus to monitor conditions. That included a staff member who stayed at the Pinnacle Campus.
“We did not know it was going to be this bad,” Malcolm said. “I think everybody thought it would be bad but first I was power and then power started to come back and then it was water. It was more than I think any of us expected it to be.”
However, the Eastview Campus and Cypress Creek Campus building 1000 will remain closed until further notice while repairs continue.
The college offers a Student Emergency Fund for those in an unexpected situation in need of financial assistance. From assistance with housing and living expenses or car repairs and transportation issues to childcare, family emergencies, natural disasters and even a loss in employment. It also offers a tuition payment plan assistance.
Students must apply and in order to qualify they have to meet certain requirements:
- Exhibit an unanticipated financial emergency.
- Have earned at least 12 credits at Austin Community College with at least a 2.0 GPA.
- Be currently enrolled in at least 6 credits.
This Friday, Lopez, a member of his college’s Student Government Association, and his fellow members will meet to draft a letter to the Texas Legislature to voice their concerns.
“We are telling them how this is unacceptable and could have been prevented. This is no way to treat your constituents,” he said. “It was worse than we expected and we definitely did not plan for it.”