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Lyons Hall Lost Until at Least Fall; Campus Damaged in Winter Squall

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

By Patrick Healy, Managing Editor

Multiple buildings at Canisius College sustained damage in the course of the winter blizzard that blitzed Buffalo in late Dec. 2022, necessitating the closure of Lyons Hall for at least the spring semester.

In addition to closing Lyons Hall, the college prohibited access to the Palisano Pavilion and the Koessler Athletic Center over much of winter break after the storm. A Dec. 30 campus-wide email stated that only “essential personnel in Facilities, ITS and Public Safety,” as well as “select students who were previously approved to reside in campus residence halls during the holiday break,” were allowed on campus.

A month after the damages, The Griffin interviewed college officials to provide an overview of the damages’ timeline and long-term impacts.

The Christmas Crisis

Per the account of Associate Director of Facilities Joseph Snodgrass, who was on campus for the entirety of the storm, the damages occurred over multiple days.

Speaking with The Griffin from the basement of Palisano Pavilion this week, Snodgrass explained, “The first bit of damage was this building on [December] 24. We had a hot water coil freeze in the air handling unit up on the second floor that serves the fitness center.” Public Safety officers discovered the damages and alerted Snodgrass, who valved off the hot water. Later that day, the sprinkler line froze and burst, flooding the fitness center and the lower level, including the e-sports room.

Snodgrass said the Palisano Pavilion was totally back in operation as of the beginning of the spring semester. “You wouldn’t even notice [that] some of the stuff happened,” Snodgrass said. Speaking specifically of the Esports room, “when classes started last Tuesday, we had it all ready to go.”

As for Lyons Hall, Snodgrass said, “I was in the building myself [December] 25.” At that point, he continued, there was no damage. The damage occurred in “the very early morning hours of Dec. 26. I was called, I came in, I shut off the fire pump [and] shut the water off, but by then we had quite a bit of water in the building.”

What Snodgrass thinks were hurricane-force winds blew in the windows, allowing the cold air to come in and freeze sprinkler lines in the ceilings of the third and fourth floors. Over the course of a few days, the water seeped down through the floors.

“There was some damage to the fourth floor; not as bad as the lower floors.” A couple of digital media arts labs and a room next to them “took a pretty good hit,” but the rest of the fourth floor was untouched or barely harmed. Asked if all of the third-floor classrooms were damaged, Snodgrass said, “For the most part, yes.” The faculty offices on the second floor were also all damaged, and “Institutional Advancement and most of Admissions took a hit.”

The restoration of Lyons Hall, Snodgrass continued, is “gonna be a bit of a long-term cleanup and rebuild process. It’s not gonna open anytime soon. We don’t have a timeframe for that yet. It will be offline for the spring semester, we can promise you that.” As for the fall semester, Snodgrass said, “I can’t say. It’s not that I don’t want to say, it’s just that we don’t know the direction we’re gonna be asked to go in for that building.”

Other buildings were also damaged. A hot water line broke in the second-floor lounge of Dugan Hall after winds — it is unknown how — got into the building to freeze it, allowing water into the lounge, the area below it and the Student Life suite in the basement. But, per Snodgrass, now “everything is fixed and cleaned up” in the upperclassman residence hall. A unit froze in the ceiling just outside the entrance to the library, though the damage was minimal. Health Science took some damage, and a couple of air intake shrouds, some boiler breeching and a large exhaust stand on the roof of Science Hall all blew over.

On Friday, Jan. 6, President Steve Stoute said, “Faculty and staff can return to work, on campus, beginning Monday, [January] 9. … The damage to Lyons Hall continues to be assessed, and work in that building will be ongoing for the foreseeable future.” The president also announced that spring semester classes would resume on schedule.

While most of campus is back to normal, Snodgrass acknowledged that Lyons “is gonna take us a bit longer” to clean up. The indefinite effects of the storm on classes was the subject of a Griffin interview with Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Sara Morris.

The Academic Aftermath

Per the Canisius academic classes calendar as accessed on Jan. 2, Lyons Hall was scheduled to host nearly 50 undergraduate courses during the spring 2023 semester: about three dozen on the third floor and half a dozen on both the first and fourth floors.

Morris recalled that she was first told of a damage assessment to Lyons on Wednesday, Dec. 28. Morris said it was initially obvious that Lyons Hall would at least be temporarily closed. It became increasingly clear throughout the next few weeks, she continued, that Lyons would be sidelined for the entire semester. And though the fourth floor was largely undamaged, it is inaccessible.

Before spring semester classes could be considered, though, the online intersession courses had to be completed. Morris recalled that “we had no email, because we didn’t have [the college portal log-on system] Single Sign-On; we could not log into Zoom through the Canisius accounts. … We had no internet. The Canisius phones were down, the portal was down. We could not email anyone for several days, and that’s where we started sending text messages saying things were down and the college would be closed while we were assessing damage.”

Morris told the registrar to immediately begin looking for alternative spaces for Lyons Hall and Koessler Athletic Center classes. The problem was of both classroom space and usage. “We always talk about building the class schedule as being a giant game of tetris,” Morris explained, “because if somebody needs a particular type of classroom space — particularly a computer lab or a specialized learning environment — if they’re a bigger class they may have to displace somebody else.”

Morris “seriously doubts” that the Lyons Hall closure will affect the number of courses offered next semester. Even if Lyons continues to be closed, “We definitely have enough classroom space to accommodate not only all the classes we are offering this semester but some additional capacity. The difference would be that this may require we spread the times out some more.” Normally, she said, the college can offer 84 classes simultaneously. The closure of Lyons reduces that number to the mid-70s.

All full-time faculty whose offices were in Lyons Hall were moved into Churchill Tower. Whole departments were kept together. For instance, all political science professors moved into the sixth floor with the history department. In addition, Morris stressed that she sent her academic affairs support staff and directed facilities employees to save all that was salvageable from Lyons Hall faculty offices.

Admissions, Some Extracurriculars Moved

Morris also made sure to note that the closure of Lyons affects not only faculty but also Canisius student organizations. Citing Little Theater’s reliance on Lyons Hall’s Marie Maday Theater, the vice president for Academic Affairs said these Student Life organizations are also a priority. For instance, Little Theater has priority over outside groups for “Montante if that meets their needs.”

Brianna Propis, president of Little Theater, provided an update on her organization’s plans. “Our club was shocked and devastated, but devising a plan to move forward has undoubtedly brought the members of my board together in an unexpected, ‘Scooby Doo’-esque way. . . . The destruction of the theatre has undoubtedly not taken the spirit of our club with it.”

Other departments typically housed in Lyons have been temporarily moved elsewhere. Undergraduate admissions is currently housed in the lower level of Science Hall, while graduate admissions is in Old Main 101. In a statement to The Griffin, Vice President for Enrollment Management Dr. Danielle Ianni shared how her team is adapting to the new locations.

Praising the ITS department for offering to share space, Ianni reported, “We have moved lounge chairs to the lower level of Science Hall to create a welcoming space for families. In addition, there will be more signage added to campus to direct families. The new location has also caused us to change the campus tour route and process for greeting our visitors.”

Ianni put a positive spin on admissions’ new environs and hinted at the potential for confusion among admissions visitors about the location change. “We are excited that prospective students will have more opportunities to interact with current students in this new location. I hope the campus community will continue to greet all of our guests with a smile and help direct them to our new space.”

The KAC is back

The closure of the Koessler Athletic Center over some of winter break immediately affected Canisius's men's basketball team. Two of their January home games were moved to Niagara University, but the team’s home games are now back at the KAC.

Director of Athletics William Maher told The Griffin that athletic facilities in the Koessler Athletic Center were not significantly damaged. “The spaces in the KAC that had what I would classify as significant issues were the classrooms on the lower level and the offices on the main level facing Main Street. … The only other issues we faced were some leaking that affected a few offices.” Maher also said the offices have been provided a temporary heating solution and that classroom usage in the KAC is not affected this semester.

Snodgrass elaborated on the damages, saying, “The gymnasium was fine, the weight room fine, the aerobic room fine, the poolroom fine. There was some damage outside in the concessions area, but nothing in the field or grandstand. … Nothing that would impact any operations.”

Financial Effects and Further Coverage

Though the damages forced changes to Science Hall parking rules in order to accommodate admissions’ new home, the cleanup will not affect the completion of the much awaited and already delayed parking lot at site of the former Jefferson Avenue parking ramp, Snodgrass said. “Not in one bit, no. Completely independent. Actually I think they’re still working out there [at the future parking lot], even in this weather.”

Snodgrass confirmed that for all these damages, including Lyons, Canisius has insurance. Snodgrass met with insurance adjusters on Jan. 24 to do a thorough walkthrough of all storm-damaged buildings. “We should be in good shape, we should be covered for this, insurance should cover us for all of this. … Lyons will be back better than ever once we’re done.”

A history of Lyons Hall is provided on page three of this issue and the actions of Snodgrass and other Canisians stranded on campus during the storm is the subject of this week’s Griffin editorial on page five.

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