Displaced SUNY Oneonta Students Get a Look at Fire-Damaged Dorm

By Kelly McCarthy

January 18, 2013 Updated Jan 19, 2013 at 2:06 AM EDT

Oneonta, NY (WNBG Binghamton) A fire that damaged a SUNY Oneonta dorm hall on Wednesday left more than 174 students without a place to live.

No one was injured, but students were worried about finding a place to stay during the first week of classes.

Some are looking on the brighter side things, walking around campus in eye-catching sweatshirts donated by the college.

"I don't know it's a great story, I'm going to keep this for a really long time and say it was a fun week of my life," said William Vonatzingem, a sophomore at SUNY Oneonta.

Instead of focusing on the inconvenience, groups of displaced students are embracing the neon, and finding a place to crash hasn't been a challenge.

"All my friends, tons of random kids have been saying if anyone from Matteson needs a place to sleep I have a futon in my room's everyone has been coming out to help it's been really great," Vonatzingem said.

Students got their first look inside Matteson Hall since the fire. They said the damage wasn't as bad as they were expecting, but the smell of smoke was overwhelming.

"Our room was completely untouched, nothing happened and it was very fumy, like completely black like I had to cough a lot," said Julian Oliver, a senior at SUNY Oneonta.

It's been days since any of these students had more than just the clothes on their back.

Even if the belongings smell of smoke and are tossed into garbage bags, it's more than what they had the day before.

"Really for the last 24 hours we've been working round the clock to clean up the mess in there and to make sure every student was able to gain access to at least get their essential belongings," said Hal Legg, Communications Director of SUNY Oneonta.

"They told us we could go in for like 20-30 minutes. They're going to give us a protective mask as a precaution and we can carry out as much stuff as we can pretty much," Vonatzingem said.

Clothes, books and winter belongings were among the top items to be carried out; even a pet goldfish made it out alive.

"You just had to get what you needed and just prioritize and everything so it was an experience," Oliver said.

The college gave all residents the option to stay at the Holiday Inn in Oneonta until the dorm reopens.

Thursday night, 97 residents took them up on the offer.

Oneonta Public Transit is stepping up to transport the students to and from campus. The buses extended their usual route to include the Holiday Inn.

One bus driver who drove the new route this morning says student have been grateful and have been showing their appreciation.

"She was just so relieved. She walked out, the bus was there, it was warm, she got to class on time. One less stress," said Paul Patterson, Transit Director of OPT.

The bus schedule and rooms at the Holiday Inn will continue until the dorm is safe for students to return.