A master key to the Nicolson resident halls was stolen last week, leaving University officials scrambling to increase security measures, notify residents and get locks replaced in a timely manner.

According to Director of Residential Life (ResLife) Fran Koerting, the key was stored in a locked room that was accessible only to staff members of ResLife. It was additionally secured using a “pegboard” system, in which a particular peg is used to remove a key from its place on the board.

While it is still unclear how the thief was able to enter the room, Koerting explained that the key was forcibly cut from its peg. This peg system—which has been in place for the past five years—is widely used throughout campus and has not been involved in any previous incidents.

“We were told this is a very secure system and the pegs should not be able to be cut off, but in this case someone was able to,” Koerting said.

Nicolson residents were notified by e-mail on Friday afternoon that the master key —which grants access to all 170 rooms in the Nicolson dorms—had been stolen. Public Safety (PSafe) officers also visited the dorms that same day to discuss the situation with students.

Koerting explained that the administration does not know who stole the key, and residents were equally baffled. Paul Edwards ’09, the head resident of the Nicolson dorms, said that he and the other Resident Advisors (RAs) were both surprised and puzzled by the situation.

“We don’t know who stole it,” Edwards said. “There’s speculation being done by everyone, but there is no definitive rumor. I wouldn’t say it is or isn’t a student—I just don’t know.”

Many Nicolson residents said that they the situation unsettling, especially when they were first notified.

“The first time we heard, it was definitely a scare, but I think everyone has kind of relaxed about it now,” said Nicolson resident Arielle Hixson ’11.

Hixon also noted that her caution in hiding valuables waned slightly when the stolen key did not lead to any apparent thefts or illegal activity.

“I did [put valuables away] the first night but not really everyday since,” she said. “It’s more just for the sake of it. I doubt someone will actually walk in and take something, but it’s more of a precaution.”

Beyond encouraging students to take precautionary measures, the University has made many other efforts to increase security in the Nicolson dorms. Since separate key card access is necessary to get into the building itself, ResLife has made attempts to limit the number of people in the entrances and exits.

“Guest card access was removed to minimize the number of people going in and out of the building,” Koerting said. “In addition, we have asked residents to not hold the exterior doors open for others to enter the building, to ensure that only Nicolson residents have access to the building.”

According to Koerting, a temporary set of locks will be installed by the end of this week. She explained that the University uses a particularly secure type of lock and key that local hardware stores do not carry. The temporary set of locks will be used until the University’s typical locking system can be purchased from the manufacturer and installed. Koerting emphasized that, despite the extra hassle of replacing the locks two times, it was particularly important to secure the dorms before fall break, when many rooms will be left unoccupied for days at a time.

Edwards hoped that the key would be returned—not only for the convenience of students, but also for the University.

“I heard an estimate that to replace the locks would take about 25 minutes per door, and there are 170 rooms in the Nics,” Edwards said. “That would be a lot of time.”

Until the locks are replaced, PSafe will continue patrolling the area around the Nicolson dorms. Students also have the option of temporarily moving out of their rooms or having PSafe store their valuables.

Koerting noted that no students followed up on the offer to move into a different dorm, and ResLife has received few complaints regarding the situation.

“I don’t think [we’ve gotten a small response] because students are not concerned—I think they are making the best of a tricky situation,” Koerting said. “They are really being troopers about it. And I hope they realize that we are taking every step possible to get this dealt with as quickly as possible.”

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