New windows planned for UNC Charlotte dorm where student died

slyttle@charlotteobserver.comMarch 26, 2014 

UNC Charlotte officials say new windows are part of the renovations planned over the next four years at four dormitories, including the building where a student fell to his death Sunday morning.

A UNCC spokesman said changing the windows is part of previously scheduled improvements to buildings that are more than 40 years old.

And school officials said they are studying whether anything can be done to improve safety practices.

Among the buildings set for renovations is Moore Hall, where 18-year-old Joshua Robert Helm of Hillsborough died. A police report said Helm died of multiple injuries after he fell from the seventh floor of the nine-floor building.

Police and school officials said Helm fell off the ledge outside his window. The windows in Moore Hall can be opened fully.

If UNCC follows the trend of its new buildings and of other universities, the new windows will open only slightly or not at all.

“Window designs for the renovated residence halls have not been finalized, so it is undetermined whether, or to what extent, the new windows will open,” UNCC spokesman John Bland said.

He said there are several reasons for the renovations – “because of their age and to improve the building aesthetics, functionality and energy efficiency – and to be more marketable and attractive to students.”

Bland said that when Moore Hall was built in 1970, the typical design allowed for windows to be opened fully. That has changed.

“Our newer residence halls are air-conditioned and have windows that slide either up or down – and open only partially,” said Bill Studenc, a spokesman for Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

Wingate University spokesman Jeff Atkinson said the windows in that Union County school’s newest dormitory, which opened in January 2013, “don’t open at all.”

Bland said renovations at the four dormitories in UNCC’s South Village area will begin in May. Holshouser Hall, built in 1973, is first. It will be followed, one per year, by Sanford Hall (built in 1971), Moore and Scott Hall (1972).

It is not clear why Helm might have gotten onto the ledge outside his room, but campus police found his body on the ground about 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

He was, by all accounts, a friendly and high-achieving student. At Northern Durham High School, he was inducted into the National Honor Society and was an all-conference pitcher.

His high school baseball coach, Greg Pruitt, told the Durham Herald-Sun, “I’m just heartbroken. … I thought he was going to conquer the world.”

Kim Strickland, who said she taught Helm in sixth grade, wrote in an obituary guest book, “Josh was a wonderful young man. He always carried a smile and never met a stranger.”

A funeral was held Wednesday for Helm in Chapel Hill. A relative told the Observer that the family does not want to comment at this time.

Bland said that in light of Helm’s death, UNCC is taking a look at window designs “to ensure that we are meeting safety requirements and best practices.”

Jane Nicholson, a spokeswoman for Appalachian State University in Boone, said older residence halls there have screens.

Studenc said Western Carolina’s older buildings have windows “equipped with heavy-duty security screens that require tools in order to be detached.”

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle

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