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Reuben-Cooke Building basement offices evacuated after flooding, snake sightings

The Reuben-Cooke Building.
The Reuben-Cooke Building.

The Reuben-Cooke building’s basement offices were evacuated over winter break due to flooding. The building, which houses sociology and psychology classrooms and offices, has also been home to some snakes over the last few months, according to graduate students. 

The flooding occurred on Dec. 26, when “severe cold weather” froze and ruptured a pipe near the basement window, according to Vanessa Roth, manager of communications and support services for Duke Facilities Management.

Suzanne Schenewerk, a third-year doctoral candidate in the sociology department, noted that there was no official communication from the Graduate School when the pipe first burst. 

Graduate students have received “no timeline or communications” about the flooding or plans for repairs, according to Pamela Zabala, a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the sociology department. Zabala, who has an office in the Reuben-Cooke basement, described the lack of communication as “frustrating but not surprising.”

Zabala first found out about the burst pipe when she came to her office over break and “found a bunch of heaters and dehumidifiers in there.” 

Without her office, she currently is working from home indefinitely as “no one can give [her] an estimate for when the basement will be safe.” 

While Roth expects no long-term damage, the timeline to re-occupancy and repair can begin once Facilities Management cleans and dries the area — a process that “will be complete in the coming weeks,” Roth wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

In recent months, graduate students have also reported multiple snake encounters. Emily Maloney, a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the sociology department, reported their first snake sighting in July. 

Upon viewing photos taken by doctoral students, Schenewerk believes that they are juvenile rat snakes, which are nonvenomous, entering the building from outside. 



“The fact that they're getting in isn't a surprise, considering the age of the building, the significant repairs the building needs, and the rodent problem we've had for years,” Schenewerk wrote. “Honestly, I prefer snakes to the mice, who get into our desk drawers and eat food we leave in there, but not everybody feels that way.”

According to Roth, Facilities Management received reports of snakes in fall 2022 and “dispatched professional pest management to address.” 

“A full assessment for snake remediation was completed, and no snake sightings have been reported since that time,” Roth said.

This is not the first instance of a burst pipe resulting in flooding this academic year. In September, parts of the Flowers Building and Page Auditorium were temporarily closed after a chilled water pipe burst. The Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, located on the first floor of the Flowers Building, is still closed and expected to reopen fall 2023. 


Audrey Wang | University News Editor

Audrey Wang is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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