Key West Center Re-opening After Hurricane

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Hurricane Irma made landfall in Key West on Sept. 10 as a Category 4 storm. A month after Hurricane Irma has hit Florida, the Saint Leo Key West Center, the students and faculty recently got readjusted. In fact, according to Alaina Plowdrey, the director of Key West, students returned to classes on Monday, Oct. 2, which was more than a few weeks after the hurricane hit, and only couple days before this was when most of the students were making their way back to the Keys.

“The reopening went very smoothly; the only big issue was the intermittent internet. However, by the first night of classes the internet was consistent,” said Plowdrey. “The students have been great as well as my staff and faculty in working together and being patient with one another and respectful of the process.”

Based on many messages from Saint Leo University and President Dr. Lennox, Saint Leo has made it known that it is dedicated to helping accommodate the students affected by the hurricanes, especially regarding faculty giving extensions and other assistance with class work. With this assistance from Saint Leo and its faculty, many students did not have to withdraw due to the effects of the storm.

“We had minimal withdrawals from students. Those that needed to withdraw either were first responders, that have been working very hard and long hours since the storm or those that lost large portions of their homes,” said Plowdrey. “Both on ground and online faculty have been wonderful in working with everyone for extensions and incompletes. It hasn’t been an easy term for the students, faculty, and staff down here, but the process of working as an interconnected team has helped immensely.”

Key West took a devastating hit from the Hurricane, as they were affected by heavy rainfalls, coastal flooding, and strong winds. According to CBS News, FEMA estimates that 65 percent of homes suffered major damage and 25 percent of homes were destroyed.  Plowdrey confirmed that some faculty and students did, in fact, suffer damages to their properties. The Key West Center is checking on these individuals and making certain accommodations to help them deal with these particular circumstances.

“We did have some individuals and families that did suffer. We have been checking in on them regularly, sending them grant information and welcoming everyone to use the lab for internet if they do not have access,” Plowdrey said. “Since many have only just returned, I am planning on next week, the first week of FA2, to run a can drive to support anyone who is in extra need at this time, as well as create volunteer lists for those who are in need of any help cleaning their properties.”

In spite of some part of the Keys being shattered by Hurricane Irma, the Key West Center only suffered minimal damages.

“We had quite a few ceiling tiles come down from water damage. Those areas are in the queue to be repaired by Public Works. We had part of our railing go down outside the front door, which has been repaired,” said Plowdrey. “When we first came back, the center was in extreme need of a dehumidifier. PW promptly came by after my request with an industrial strength machine. The air quality was better within three days.”

Although the center reopened recently, there are still concerns for the future, as Plowdrey described.

“Well, hurricane season isn’t done and this year has been quite active! My concerns for the weather will end at the end of the season, November. However, those of us who live down here understand it is just part of living in Florida,” said Plowdrey. “And if another hurricane comes, which is inevitable at some point, we will process through, as a united center and university. Teamwork is key, and SLU has the best. Everyone takes care of one another. When you know you have a great team and support, there is no room for concern; you know the only path is to confidently push through strong. The only thing we have any control over is our emotions; I choose to keep mine positive and productive for the benefit of my own psychology and for those around me.”

Plowdrey also talked about ways that the Keys were able rebound from the effects of the hurricane, and she mentioned what the Center plans to do to help its community as well.

“I must say, the National Guard, the Navy, and FEMA have done wondrously in supporting those in need as well as local organizations and ones that have come down from the mainland to help. Most of the garbage and debris has been picked up, so at this time it is about rebuilding. We also lost a lot of trees in our parks, in which we will be looking into donating some Saint Leo University trees to help with the regrowth and show our support in the community,” said Plowdrey.

It is evident that the Key West Center is getting settled after reopening and is able to support it students, faculty, staff and even its community.


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