SHAWNEE, Okla. (BP)–Dining services, as well as several other university services and building functions, were relocated or temporarily closed Oct. 30 as a precaution at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee after a package bearing a “suspicious, off-white powdery substance” was found in the mailroom in the university’s Geiger Center.
Marty O’Gwynn, associate vice president for university relations, said the substance was later found to be harmless, and all buildings and offices were reopened the next morning.
Mailroom workers in the Geiger Center received the package via Federal Express Ground Services shortly before noon Oct. 30. The workers immediately noticed the powder and, as per university guidelines, notified university officials who in turn called 911. The package was handled only by the Federal Express employee and was not touched by university workers.
Several Shawnee police units and multiple fire department vehicles were soon on the scene, including a hazardous material (Haz/Mat) unit.
O’Gwynn said the package was addressed to the Mabee Learning Center, the campus library. Allen Heilaman, acting fire chief for the Shawnee Fire Department, said the package originated from Washington, D.C., and given recent national events concerning mail-borne disease, that possibly added to the concern.
The first floor of the two-story Geiger Center was evacuated shortly after the package was received. About 30-35 students were in the area at the time. When the Haz-Mat team made the decision at 3:30 p.m. to move the package to Oklahoma City for testing, the entire building was shut down.
The Geiger Center, located in the center of OBU’s Shawnee campus, houses its mailroom, cafeteria, snack bar, copy center and offices for student services, student development, residential life and campus activities.
“We did not know what the substance was, but on the side of prudence, we went ahead and closed everything down, suited up two firemen in containment suits and removed the package,” Heilaman said.
Oklahoma County health official declared the substance non-hazardous shortly after 6 p.m. Oct. 30.
Aside from the fear of a potentially dangerous substance, university officials had another potentially “fearsome” task: feeding a multitude of hungry students without a cafeteria.
ARAMARK, OBU’s food service provider, moved out of their second story facilities when the building was cleared at 3:30. The staff normally starts serving dinner at 4:15. The evening meal was served, with a truncated menu, in Clark Craig Field House located on the southwest corner of the OBU campus.
“ARAMARK did a great job adapting to the situation,” O’Gwynn said. “They moved everything in less than an hour to Clark Craig.”
Will Ledesma, a freshman from Wellington, Kan., had a choice of eating ham sandwiches or fried chicken instead of the scheduled menu, which included bacon cheeseburgers, carved ham and pizza.
“I’m not annoyed at all,” he said. “A little inconvenience is a small price to pay if it means being safe. I’m glad the school is being cautious.”
O’Gwynn said Ledesma’s attitude reflected that of the rest of the student body.
“They were all cooperative and, most importantly, no one panicked,” he said. “Dinner went well in Clark Craig, and everyone seemed to be glad we were taking precautions.”
Koonce is a journalism major at OBU.