Pub fire causes more than $2 million in damages

by George Hatoun and Chetan Kapoor

Damages to the Rice Memorial Center and the Student Center resulting from the Pub fire have been estimated to be "over $2 million" by Russell Price, maintenance manager of Facilities and Engineering.

While the fire itself was contained shortly after it started, the aftermath proved a nightmare for students, faculty and staff who frequent the Student Center as well as for those who work there.

Willy's Pub was completely destroyed in the fire. All Pub fixtures, furnishings and other equipment have been declared totaled by the university's insurance company and have been removed.

"Everything in the Pub was gone. The only things we were able to save were the taps and the Pub sign," Bob Sanborn, associate dean for student affairs, said. He said the Pub's student management did a "good job of salvaging the taps" and added that the taps would probably be used in the new Pub.

Price said, "Most of the damage was in the lounge area of the Pub, but the heat basically fried everything in the rest of the Pub."

Price said that cleaning and deodorizing the RMC, demolishing the Pub and decontaminating the air conditioning cost Rice $200,000.

"We had a structural repair contractor repair the concrete ceiling in Willy's so the Grand Hall could be re-opened," Price said.

The energy management and networking cables ran through Willy's. While the networking cables have already been replaced, F&E is still working on the energy management cables.

Zenaido Camacho, vice president for student affairs, said that even though the fire destroyed most of the furniture in the stage area, the plywood floor seemed unaffected by the fire.

The basement of the Student Center has been declared a hard-hat area, and only essential personnel have been allowed to enter the area.

One exception was Student Association President Maryana Iskander, who toured the area on April 10, three days after the fire.

"It was cleaned out rather well when I saw it. So the floor was bare, and the walls had been painted white. Everything else was black and smoky," Iskander said.

The entire complex suffered extensive smoke damage, and cleanup crews worked 24 hours a day for nearly a week after the fire to repair the damage and make the building operational.

Career Services and Alumni Affairs opened with limited service on April 11, and Sammy's, which is run by Food and Housing, was reopened April 12, six days after the fire.

Marion Hicks, Director of F&H, said that the damages to Sammy's were about $15,000. He said that the bulk of the damages were caused by smoke.

"Just about everything in the basement, we tossed. Upstairs, we only tossed in-process foods such as milk," Hicks said.

"It was just black back there. We didn't have any heat or water damage to speak of," he said.

The fire also melted the Marching Owl Band uniforms and damaged their instruments.

Sanborn, who oversees both the Student Center and the MOB, said that all of the uniforms and most of the instruments were declared totaled by the insurance company.

Sanborn estimated the damage to the MOB to be around $500,000. He said that many of the instruments had been taken to a professional restoration company, which would estimate whether it would be more economically feasible to have the instruments restored or simply to buy new ones instead.

A number of events were relocated from the Student Center due to the fire, including a Latin jazz concert scheduled for April 8 in the Grand Hall.

The concert was relocated to the Founder's Court.

The Rice Campus Store, including both the bookstore and computer department were as well declared total losses due to the smoke damage, and the Campus Store stock was removed from the building.

"The bookstore suffered mainly smoke damage and a little water damage. It seems like when the fire was burning, the smoke sort of used the bookstore as a chimney," Sanborn said.

Because the insurance company now owns all of the items that were totaled in the fire, the store has to be restocked with new items before it can open.

Even though the Pub and RMC suffered lots of damages, administrators were optimistic about the opportunities that had been created alongside.

"There was a lot of damage, and it's certainly too bad that it was arson," Sanborn said. "We will rebuild the Pub, and we will have a better Pub."

"Everybody has been looking at the fire as a tragedy, and it was. But I also look at it like an opportunity to see what we can really provide for students," Camacho said. "We were constrained by walls -- now we're not."

Security of university property is another issue that has been considered.

"I'm sure we're going to learn a lot from this process. Security at the colleges is going to be increased this next semester with additional personnel," Camacho said.

He said that the flow of students through the building was related to security issues.

Camacho said his goal for the completion of a new pub "is to get done before school starts."

This item appeared in the News section of the April 21, 1995 issue.

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