Select Page

A year ago, the campus community came together to face a natural disaster that affected almost every building on campus as well as the city of Oshkosh.

Following the June 12-13, 2008, flood, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Facilities Maintenance staff worked overtime — even though many of them had flooding at their own homes. The team extracted water, replaced drywall and flooring, and disposed of water-logged materials so that regular campus activities, including Summer Session courses, could take place as planned.

University personnel worked with staff from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to contend with the damage and find ways to prevent future problems. Administrators met daily to evaluate and coordinate the cleanup efforts.

Their labor was a testament to the University’s dedication to serving its students: About 1,000 work hours later, office, living and learning spaces were ready for the first day of fall classes, Sept. 3.

While the Clow Nursing complex and other buildings required significant restoration, only the River Center — a conference facility used primarily for training, meetings and gathering space — was ruled a total loss. The building has remained vacant for the past year.

“We took a look at the building and asked ourselves if we wanted to rebuild or to renovate or to reevaluate the needs on campus,” Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Tom Sonnleitner said. “We wanted to make sure we had the right facilities for all of our visitors before we made a decision.”

With the final insurance payout pending, University administration chose to start from scratch. The demolition and construction of River Center’s replacement, which could include the offices of the University’s Advancement Division, will occur within the next two years.

The former River Center building included a Residence Life maintenance center; those shops have been integrated in the new Facilities Maintenance service center, which is being built at the site of the former Cub Foods store.

As facilities on campus are upgraded and new buildings — such as the soon-to-be-constructed academic center — will be designed with prevention in mind to reduce or eliminate damage from floods.

“The Student Recreation and Wellness Center did not have a drop of water inside,” said Sonnleitner of the state-of-the-art, 104,000-square-foot building that opened in fall 2007.

An ongoing mission

If there is a silver lining to the disaster, it was that the flood provided the University with an opportunity to test its emergency response and communication plans.

In addition to coordinating the logistics of a quick, safe cleanup, the crisis communication team was activated within minutes to update the campus community and public about the severe weather and facility reports via e-mail, the UW Oshkosh homepage, UW Oshkosh Today and the University’s weather line (424-0000).

“Although challenging, the flood provided the University with an opportunity to implement and enhance its crisis-communications strategy,” said Jeanette DeDiemar, executive director of Integrated Marketing and Communications. “Effective communication is an ongoing mission, and UW Oshkosh now uses a multi-channel approach, including e-mail, the Web, RSS feeds, to help keep students, faculty, staff, external constituents and visitors safe.”

Earlier this year, the University adopted the e2Campus emergency notification system, which enables the University to send urgent messages to the cell phones of those who sign up for the notifications. TitanAlert ( will be used to communicate during such emergencies as severe weather warnings, gas leaks, fires, bomb threats, crimes watches and power failures.

For fall 2009, the University plans to give its on-campus communications a boost by installing loud speakers and video screens throughout campus, including classrooms.

Related stories: