Founders Hill residents speak out about ‘K-State family,’ support in fire’s aftermath

Two men work in the Founders Hill Apartments complex on April 27, 2017. (Alanud Alanazi | The Collegian)

Six months have passed since an October fire at the Founders Hill Apartments in Manhattan, and the residents affected by the fire continue to deal with problems caused by the disaster. In the aftermath, even those not directly affected by the fire have found ways to help those in need.

Out of the 91 residents affected by the fire, 24 were students, which left many without the option of turning to Kansas State for help.

Kristen Noll, First Management Inc.’s district manager, said in an email statement that the non-KSU students and staff were given help by First Management Inc., and “others were placed in local hotels. While we were not bound to do this … First Management Inc. stepped in to make those arrangements during crisis.”

Olive Garden later provided a large meal at Founders Hill for those affected, and residents were also given gift cards donated by HD Supply, Noll said.

Assistance from the Office of Student Life

The Office of Student Life immediately stepped in, giving the displaced students rooms at West Hall and a card for meals. Both were good for one week, but Heather Reed, assistant vice president and director of student life, said in some cases they had been willing to work with the students and give them more time in the residence halls if needed.

One of those students who found himself residing in West Hall for a week was Dakota Troyer, sophomore in agricultural education, who said the fire was “a blessing and a curse.” The curse is easy to see, but for Troyer, the blessing just reaffirmed what K-State already preaches.

“I saw love sweep through the community,” Troyer said.

Troyer said after one week, they were able to go back, sign a waiver and had four hours to go through their apartments and get what they needed or anything that was not damaged. He wished the residents were allowed more help, as the only people allowed inside were the residents and parents of those residents.

Half of the residents of Building G at Founders Hill chose to relocate to sister properties, Chase Manhattan Apartments and Campus East Apartments, which are also owned by First Management Inc. Those who took that route were given one free first month and their security deposit transferred. Troyer and his roommate moved to the Chase Manhattan Apartments.

All students displaced by the fire have found new housing, either staying in the K-State residence halls or, like Troyer and many others, switched to a sister property. First Management Inc. also gave the residents the option of a release from their rental contract and reimbursement for rent that may have been paid for the final days of the month.

Additional help

Also during the time of relocation for residents, Founders Hill made them aware of places they could go for additional help. One of those places was the Red Cross, which gave out $50 gift cards. Troyer said these were helpful during the week where they were not allowed to go into their room at Founders Hill.

Safe at K-State

During that one week away from home, Reed and the Office of Student Life knew how difficult it would be for the students.

“We told them, if you feel you are not getting appropriate leeway, come speak with us again,” Reed said.

It never came to that and all students affected spoke of how helpful their instructors were. Reed said that it was almost more “amazing” that no student involved with the fire had to leave K-State.

First Management’s Noll said she had never dealt with a situation like this in Manhattan, but for Reed, she remembered the 2013 Lee Crest Apartments fire that resulted from arson.

Reed was thankful that this time it did not appear to be the result of someone knowingly starting the blaze. The conclusion made by officials from the Office of the State Fire Marshal, Junction City Fire Department, Manhattan Fire Department and the Fort Riley Fire Department was improper disposal of smoking materials.

Support from the K-State family

Troyer spent some time the day of the fire at Radina’s Coffeehouse and Roastery, where many people heard their story and offered to buy them food and whatever else they needed. Troyer was taken aback by the support he and his fellow residents received.

“We truly are a family that cares for one another,” Troyer said.

Reed also reaffirmed Troyer’s family comments.

“These are examples of when bad things happen, we can come together as the K-State family.”

At the Office of Student Life, Reed and her colleagues saw the “family” from everywhere on campus, with different organizations immediately asking for ways to help. One of the organizations that offered help to students was the College of Agriculture, which saw seven of their students affected by the fire.

One of the biggest issues to come out of the fire was that one third of students involved were international students, whose biggest concern quickly turned to their visas inside the building. K-State was able to help and fix that problem as quickly as possible.

Troyer said the agriculture college used some of its emergency funds to help students involved.

“We were given a very generous amount,” Troyer said.

That amount was helpful for Troyer, who said he lost almost 70 percent of his belongings due to smoke and water damage. He was also appreciative of his Ag Ed Club, which donated a new laptop to him. Of the things that did survive the fire for Troyer, one was the 60-inch TV that was written about in the initial Collegian story.

Troyer and Reed both noted the support the residents were given at the time. On top of the multiple free sessions each student gets per year at K-State Counseling Services, the Office of Student Life covered the fees for any additional sessions needed by the victims of the fire. Troyer’s mind wasn’t just on his own during the fire, but on a family that lived above him.

“I knew a family above us who had a little boy,” Troyer said. “He was a football player. I can’t imagine how they got through this without the help of K-State.”

Troyer also said that the fire “definitely did not help anyone who suffers from mental illnesses.” His thoughts continued to be with those who struggled with mental illness and those who weren’t lucky enough to have the help and support of K-State and different friends and family.

First Management Inc. is already going through the rebuilding stages for Founders Hill Apartments.

“The building is currently under reconstruction … it is scheduled to be opened again this fall,” Noll said.

First Management Inc. is currently taking reservations for Building G, with only a few apartments left.