Lincoln U. Dorms Fail A Surprise Inspection The Inspector Was Going To Check Two Buildings After Fire Alarms Were Reported Out. The College Added 7.

Posted: November 18, 1998

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY — Nine of the 10 Lincoln University dormitories failed a surprise safety inspection by the state Department of Labor and Industry on Monday because of broken fire alarms, out-of-order safety lights, and other violations, said department and university officials.

While none of the violations was serious enough to evacuate students, department spokesman Scott Burkett said the university had 90 days to begin fixing the problems or the department could close the buildings.

The inspector planned to examine only two dormitories, but university officials asked him to review seven others for safety. Arnold Hence, vice president of enrollment and student affairs, said the violations were mostly minor and would be corrected by this weekend.

``You can bet, whatever it is, we'll get right on it,'' Hence said.

Burkett said the inspection was prompted by an Inquirer article this month reporting that several dormitory fire alarms did not work the night of Oct. 29, when nine fires were set in three dormitories.

While no one was hurt, Oxford firefighters said they found broken alarms and lights and some students still in bed when they arrived. The fires, mostly set in trash cans, caused $8,000 in damage. State police at the Embreeville barracks are continuing to investigate.

The broken alarms discovered that night were in McRary and Frederick Douglass Halls, home to 264 students. Further inspections by the physical plant staff found that the alarms were also inoperable in Morris Hall and that there were problems in nearly all of the 10 dormitories, said Kevin Draper, head of housekeeping and maintenance.

The state's Fire and Panic Safety Act requires that dormitories have automatic and manual fire alarms, emergency lighting, fire extinguishers, exit doors, and other safety measures.

Many universities have a full-time staff for safety maintenance, but Draper said Lincoln had not replaced security employee Robert Marley after he left several years ago.

``We don't have anyone here now,'' Draper said. ``No one here knew anything about the fire-alarm systems.''

Hence, of the student affairs office, said the university was strapped for money because the legislature was withholding the state's $11 million annual appropriation pending an investigation into the spending of president Niara Sudarkasa and a $150,000 severance package planned for her.

The audit was completed in September. Sudarkasa tendered her resignation, effective Dec. 31, afterward, and board member James Donaldson of Howard University has temporarily replaced her.

Earlier this month, about $6 million of the appropriation arrived.

Since the fires, the university has been working to upgrade the dormitories, Hence said.

The Labor and Industry inspector is expected to send a report to the university next week, at which point it will be made public.

Draper said the problems were mostly with two sets of alarms, alarm boxes and safety lights.

Labor and Industry officials said university officials had been very cooperative.

``The university came to us yesterday asking that the inspectors give them a listing which shows what needs to be corrected,'' Burkett said. ``They took the initiative. They are showing willingness to do this.''

Draper said he welcomed the inspection, particularly because his son attends Lincoln. Employees at Lincoln will be trained in repairing the alarms, he said.

``It'll still take students to understand that you don't jump up and try and play Michael Jordan and pull the fire alarm out of the ceiling,'' he said. ``It's not a toy.''

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