About a third of ISU students in residence halls faced record heat with no AC

By: - September 1, 2023 6:12 pm

Students living in Wallace and Wilson residence halls at Iowa State University are trying to beat the heat by sleeping on the floor or in air-conditioned dens. (Photo by Brooklyn Draisey/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

At its hottest, Jenna Morsovillo’s Iowa State University dorm room hit 95 degrees. Even with seven fans circulating air in the space, she and her roommate have taken to sleeping on the floor when it gets too warm in their lofted beds.

Having moved into Wilson Residence Hall earlier than others on Aug. 11, the college freshman has had to seek cooler climates in the library and her sorority house in order to focus on her first assignments of the year.

“Trying to do work in the heat is not really good because you can’t really focus, because all you’re focused on is how hot it is,” Morsovillo said. “Trying to do work while it’s like 95 degrees, it’s pretty rough.”


Temperatures in the triple digits plagued Ames and the rest of the state the week of Aug. 21, when students started attending classes, and have yet to consistently cool off. According to the National Weather Service, temperatures in the mid-90s will stick around through Labor Day and into next week before dropping to the mid-80s.

Around one-third of ISU students living in campus residence halls don’t have air conditioning in their rooms, a fact that has posed problems as record-breaking heat hit Iowa as the university began its fall semester. Students trying to escape the heat have taken to spending what time they can outside of their rooms, on recommendation from the university.

Residence hall adds dining option

Students facing long walks to class from the Wallace and Wilson residence halls at Iowa State have had additional hikes in the heat, because the location lacked a dining hall.

That will change after Labor Day: Iowa State University is expanding its dining options at Wallace and Wilson halls with a new dinner service.

Students will be able to use up to two meal swipes a day at South Side Eats, 5-7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday starting Sept. 5. The service will offer a hot meal entree and a chilled grab-and-go option, according to the announcement, both served with a selection of sides.

Wallace and Wilson residence halls, also known as the Towers, also house a micro-market with grab-and-go items that students can purchase. The Storms Dining Complex remains closed after it shut down alongside the residence halls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The closest dining hall for students with meal plans is about three-quarters of a mile away.

“Students had 24/7 access to air-conditioned dens and common spaces in the residence halls,” Director of Communication and Marketing for Campus Life Meredith Ponder Hanisch wrote in an email to Iowa Capital Dispatch. “We also encouraged students to seek out other spaces on campus, including the dining halls, Park Library and Memorial Union, to study and meet with friends during (the) highest heat index of the day.”

Students were also welcome to bring fans or freestanding, evaporation room coolers that do not require ventilation, she wrote. They could also check a fan out from a limited number at residence hall desks.

When equipment malfunction at the campus power plant caused a fire that knocked out cooling systems for the university Aug. 24, many students fled campus entirely, going home or with friends. The university canceled activities and moved the following day’s classes online, and classes resumed as normal this week after repairs were made.

Buses fill up

Trying to get around campus poses its own challenges, Landry Norton said.  The freshman said she’s lucky to live in an air-conditioned room in Geoffrey Hall, but when trying to catch a ride to class or other buildings, buses would fill up quickly and leave those who didn’t fit to wait for the next one or walk.

“A lot of our schedules are spread out freshman year because we’re taking Gen Ed and other courses so we go from one side of the campus to the other side of campus,” Norton said. “In the heat, it kind of sucks.”

She’s known students who have bunked in their friends’ air-conditioned dorms or their sorority houses rather than in dens.

Other than just adding AC to dorms, Morsovillo was unsure of how the university could help students like her handle the heat. Students aren’t allowed to bring their own air-conditioning units into dorm rooms for safety reasons, and to manage electrical demands.

Students pay more for AC

Residence halls are listed online as either having or not having air conditioning, Hanisch wrote, and students can list their preference in residence hall when they apply. Depending on the residence hall and what amenities are offered, the cost of a traditional, double-occupancy room with air conditioning can increase from $386 to $2,145.

“The ISU Department of Residence is continually working to maintain and upgrade our facilities,” Hanisch wrote. “Expanding the number of halls that are air conditioned is something we hope to do in years to come.”


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Brooklyn Draisey
Brooklyn Draisey

Brooklyn Draisey is a Report for America corps member covering higher education. She previously worked for the Quad-City Times and The Gazette covering topics ranging from business to culture.