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Caboni explains reasoning for Hilltopper Hall student relocation

Danger not an “imminent catastrophe” but has chance of possible risks
Von Smith
388 students are being relocated from Hilltopper Hall, constructed in 2018, due to a “shift” in the facade of the building.

WKU President Timothy Caboni gave a statement Friday morning regarding the relocation of Hilltopper Hall residents.

“When you have challenge in an organization, it gives you an opportunity to live your values,” Caboni said. “Everything we do here at [the] university is designed to protect and take care of our students.”

He said the Student Life Foundation made the decision to relocate 388 Hilltopper Hall residents based on “preliminary findings” that were reported to the Foundation on Wednesday, Jan. 17 by a team of architects and civil engineers who are actively investigating the building.

“In the middle of the fall [2023] semester” there was a notice of masonry coming loose, causing scaffolding to be put up. As the building was further investigated, other issues on the facade of the building were discovered, and a decision was made that “outside evaluation” of the issue was needed, Caboni said.

The team is now conducting a “physical review” with plans to do “destructive investigation” to follow, Ethan Logan, vice president of student enrollment and student experience, said.

“They [the Student Life Foundation] felt the number one consideration was the safety of our students, and so they made the decision we should relocate now without the complete information that’s to come,” Caboni said.

Logan said that the danger is not an “imminent catastrophe,” but that the chance of possible risks was enough for the Student Life Foundation to remove all occupancy from the building.

He believes the structure needs to be strengthened but not torn down.

“It’s an effort to be safe and not sorry,” Logan said.

On Oct. 18, Catherine LaRoche, assistant vice president for student engagement and executive director for housing & residence life, sent an email to faculty and staff addressing scaffolding and fencing installed at a portion of Hilltopper Hall. During repairs on the “decorative stonework,” engineers identified other components that required further investigation. The assessments showed no concerns with the building’s framework or structural integrity.

At a meeting with Caboni on Jan. 10, 2024, he shared information about Hilltopper Hall with the Herald, stating WKU was continuing to “look at the facade of that [Hilltopper Hall] to make sure that it has been installed correctly” and that the Student Life Foundation was continuing its evaluation.

“So the question was, if there was a shift in the building, but the masonry didn’t shift along with it, why not?” Caboni said at the meeting. “And so the engineers continued to take a look at that. We put fencing and scaffolding up out of an abundance of caution just to make sure that if anything were to fall, it’s not going to hit a student.”

He stated that WKU was not only working with the Student Life Foundation through the investigation but was trying to work with the original contractors and designers.

“We’re trying to work with the contractors and design folks to get an understanding of what they did, what happened and ultimately, who’s accountable for anything that might not have been installed correctly,” Caboni said.

After the relocation announcement, several Hilltopper Hall residents and their parents have taken to social media to express their feelings about the unexpected news, many feeling they were given a short notice of the situation.

“I know people wish they had more notice,” Caboni said. “But they [the Student Life Foundation] did not have those results of those preliminary findings until Wednesday, and 24 hours later, they had a plan and communication effort to talk with their students and get them relocated by the 4th of February.”

Both Caboni and Logan stated the importance of providing resources and support to Hilltopper Hall residents, hoping to make the relocation go as smoothly and comfortably as possible.

“The staff is working overtime to make sure students and their families know that we acted as quickly as we could and in the best interest of students’ safety,” Caboni said. “I know this is difficult, but we are going to navigate it together.”

Assistant News Editor Ali Costellow can be reached at [email protected]

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