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Damage to Mead Hall

The Mount Holyoke College seal

July 18, 2021

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke community,

Those in our campus community received an emergency alert yesterday afternoon, and a brief statement thereafter, informing them of the lightning strike to Mead Hall at around 5 pm and the fire it caused. The building was unoccupied at the time of the event and no injuries were reported. I am very grateful to all those who, over the last 24 hours, have expressed their support and concern for Mount Holyoke and for this beloved building on campus, home to many students for 120 years. 

The lightning struck Mead on the fourth floor, on the southwest side of the building, and resulted in a fire in the attic area. The sprinkler system operated as designed, and the fire was soon contained by South Hadley’s Fire District No. 2 (SHFD2), with mutual aid from South Hadley Fire District No. 1 (SHFD1) and several other units from neighboring towns. Some areas of campus experienced a brief power outage while we shut off power to Mead, but electricity was soon restored to all other buildings. There is currently no impact to other areas of campus, other than some traffic restrictions as clean-up efforts continue, and assessment of the damage in Mead moves forward, with guidance from water and fire experts, structural engineers, local officials and external contractors. The emergency response team will provide further updates to the campus community as we gain greater clarity about the damage sustained and the repairs to be undertaken.

While the damage from the fire appears to be limited to a relatively small section of the roof space, there is extensive water damage to a significant part of the building. Regrettably, Mead Hall will be closed for some time.

  • It is very likely that Mead Hall will remain unoccupied throughout the fall semester. The College’s emergency response team is working to identify alternative housing for the more than 140 students whose fall 2021 housing assignments are now impacted by this event. 
  • All students who have been assigned rooms in Mead Hall this fall will be offered alternative housing. The Office of Residential Life has already contacted those students directly, and will stay in touch with those students as the plans take shape. We are currently exploring a number of options, including off-campus accommodations.
  • We are also working to ensure that the Mosaic and Mary Woolley Living Learning Communities, which are based in Mead, are accommodated in any new arrangement. 
  • Some students had stored items in Mead in the spring of 2020, when the campus was evacuated as a result of the pandemic. Those students will also receive a separate communication, once we are able to assess the status of their belongings.

While it was deeply distressing today to see one of our cherished buildings so badly damaged, I was heartened by the prospect of its full restoration, thanks in large part to the rapid and effective response of our local firefighters, and to the efforts already undertaken by our colleagues in Facilities Management (FM). The clean-up operation started early this morning, and FM staff also acted quickly to assure the protection of the building and its contents from both the water in the building and from further inclement weather. The residential life staff was also present last night and this morning and connected immediately with students on campus. They are working diligently to make arrangements for fall. While the temporary closing of the building certainly creates unforeseen challenges and deep disappointment, we are confident that Mead Hall will again be a backdrop for future memories and connections, both for Mount Holyoke students and for our many visiting alums.

I know that you will join me in offering heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to the first responders from SHFD2, SHFD1, their colleagues in local fire districts and our own Public Safety and Service, as well as to all those in Facilities Management, for their swift action to mitigate damage to Mead and to keep our campus safe. Without their rapid arrival on the scene, and their expert intervention, the outcome of this event could have been significantly worse. We are deeply grateful for their rapid response in the face of this serious event and for their work to save this historic and deeply loved campus landmark.

Sincerely,

Sonya