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St. Mary’s College to put mold outbreak displaced students on a cruise ship

By Daniel de Vise,, Oct. 26, 2011

Jessie Ditillo, a student at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, paddles her kayak in the St. Mary’s River. The river and St. Mary’s students are about to

 become better acquainted.

An outbreak of mold at St. Mary’s College of Maryland this fall presented a logistical nightmare because there was nowhere to put the students. Hotels

 are scarce around the remote campus.

Then, an alumnus of this sailing-intensive school had an idea: Put them in a cruise ship.

The Sea Voyager, described on this Web site as having three bars, a restaurant and a gift shop, was on the block, and it was being moved from Maine to Virginia.

St. Mary’s President Joseph Urgo made some phone calls. The Sea Voyager is now headed to his campus, where it will serve as off-shore dormitory space for 250 students until the end of the semester.

“Over the years we have often joked, Wouldn’t it be great to have an off-shore residence hall,” Urgo said.

The ship is entering the Chesapeake Bay this morning and should reach historic St. Mary’s by Friday morning. Then there is the matter of docking it. A small college dock may prove inadequate, but a larger dock maintained by Historic St. Mary’s City should suffice. If all goes well, students will board the vessel Friday night.

Students complained of mold from the start of the fall semester, and a close inspection revealed a systemic problem with the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, which was leaking water into pipes, spawning mold. A physician declared the buildings unsafe. Repairs will take as long as a month.

Urgo evacuated the students from the buildings a week ago and put them in three nearby hotels. But there are few hotels near campus; the farthest is at Solomon’s Island, nearly 20 miles away, across an imposing bridge. The school offered round-the-clock shuttle service, but many students went home to get cars. Half of them are freshmen, relatively new to driving.

“There was a lot of late-night driving back and forth,” Urgo said. “I was really worried about them.”

Negotiations are not yet complete, but it appears that renting the cruise ship will cost about the same as the hotel rooms, which are setting the college back $20,000 a day. The funds will come from the school’s reserves.

A few students are fretful about the move amid preparations for papers and exams, but the overall reaction has been “jubilation, for the most part,” Urgo said.

“Their rooms will be a little bit smaller, but they’ll have full use of all the amenities on the ship, the ball room, the state room, the shuffleboard,” and linen service every three days.

This is still a ship, and some rooms are much nicer and larger than others. Urgo said some sort of lottery system may be devised to sort students fairly into rooms.

“As tempting as it is,” Urgo said, “we will not be taking the ship for a ride on weekends.” That would cost extra.


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