Great Hall Ceiling Crumbles on Student, Sparking Conversation on Safety

On the evening of February 19, a piece of the ceiling in the Great Hall fell onto a student, knocking her to her knees.

Freshman Michaela Lenk was standing in front of the fire place in the Great Hall, waiting in line for dinner, when she heard a loud sound and felt something hit her head. She fell to the ground and was quickly surrounded by a crowd.

“Right away, someone from Chartwells came over to see if I was alright. At first I said I was fine, because I thought I was,” said Lenk. She explained she did not feel any pain at first.

Upon hearing someone shout, “She’s bleeding; get a towel!,” Lenk noticed blood dripping onto her jacket and realized something was wrong.

An ambulance soon pulled into Carter Circle to take Lenk to the Erlanger Emergency Room in Chattanooga, where she received a CAT scan and several staples.

As to why a piece of the ceiling in the Great Hall suddenly fell, David Northcutt, the campus architect, said, “It’s a bit of a mystery.” He originally suspected the area had gotten wet over time, which could cause the plaster ceiling to soften and detach.

The fallen section of the ceiling was not a part that had been replaced in the recent, two-year-long Carter construction project. The piece was from an area which is thought to be original to the 1928 building.

After inspecting this area, Northcutt said clearly water damage was not a factor in the incident. The plaster had separated from the rest of the ceiling and fallen, but the cause remains a mystery.

Right away, Mr. Northcutt arranged a repair of the crumbled area. He also had a contractor check other parts of the ceiling to see if any other pieces were loose. They concluded the rest of the ceiling in the Great Hall is stable, for now. Some areas showed signs of minute cracking, but the ceiling is considered sound enough to last until May.

In May, when school is out of session and the Great Hall is no longer in use, Northcutt plans to do more extensive repairs on the old sections of the ceiling. This project in May is expected to last approximately a week.

Looking forward to these repairs and thinking back on the incident in February, Northcutt says, “When situations like that happen, we want to remedy them as best as we can and as quickly as we can… Student safety is a top priority.”