MU won't reopen until next semester

Sprinklers will be installed on all floors, official says

 by Sarah Owen
 published on Friday, November 9, 2007

Morgan Bellinger / THE STATE PRESS
WHERE IT STARTED: Bruce Jensen, interim director for Capital Programs, shows reporters the damaged hallway outside Maricopa Cafe that contains the closet where the Nov. 1 Memorial Union fire started.

The Memorial Union will be closed for the rest of the semester, officials said Thursday, and only portions will reopen in the spring.

The lower level and first floor of the MU received the least amount of smoke damage, said Bruce Jensen, interim director of Capital Programs at ASU. They will be the first floors to reopen.

The second and third floors will remain closed to the public indefinitely, he added.

"We have a long way to go," Jensen said. "There's a lot of smoke damage through all levels. Nobody's going to take a chance with public safety."

The MU fire originated in a storage closet on the second floor of the building on Nov. 1.

Although the only noticeable smell throughout much of the building was that of cleaning supplies, Jensen said crews would continue to work to remove pungent smoke odors and particles from ceiling tiles, keyboards and air ducts in the building.

"Everything that can be moved has to be taken out," Jensen said. "And anything that can't be moved has to be wiped down and cleaned up."

The upper levels of the building will require extensive renovations before they are ready for the public, he added. ASU officials said they do not have a monetary damage estimate.

Jim Gibbs, ASU's fire marshal, said the floors would only reopen after sprinklers have been installed.

"Any area that's going to be open will be sprinklered the entire floor," he said.

At the time of the fire, the 51-year-old building only had sprinklers in the lower level and in isolated sections of the first floor, Jensen said.

Cost and time were the issues that prevented the University from installing sprinkler systems throughout the building prior to the fire, he added.

The second and third floors will remain blocked off with plywood boards, Jensen said, until sprinklers are installed and state health and safety officials approve access.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation and categorized as suspicious, said Cmdr. Jim Hardina of ASU police.

"We can't say it was an accident," he said. "And we can't say for sure that it was deliberately started."

Hardina said anyone could have accessed the storage room where the fire started, and the police department is currently interviewing people who were in the building at the time of the fire.

"We haven't received a lot of tips," he added.

Offices that were housed in the MU have been relocated and the MU Express, a temporary dining facility, has been set up on campus, Jensen said.

Students on meal plans can purchase food at any of three locations on campus, including the MU Express, added Leah Hardesty, ASU spokesperson.

Students will not receive refunds for the pre-paid meal plans.

But Natalia Perez, a global studies junior, said she thinks the MU closure has indirectly provided a welcome alternative for students.

"I think it's been nice going to other restaurants and finding local businesses to support," she added. "I think people should be patient and realize that staff is doing the best they can."

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