University of Canberra room used as secret drug lab, police allege
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University of Canberra room used as secret drug lab, police allege

A 19-year-old man has been charged with using his room at the University of Canberra as a clandestine drug lab, after an explosion at the student hall on Tuesday night.

Canberra police say they found chemicals, as well as a notebook with the chemical formula of the drug MDMA, in a fourth-floor room at Cooper Lodge.

The man was taken to the Canberra Hospital and students were evacuated for large parts of Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.

Police said the scene had been contained, and there was no ongoing threat to public safety.

Police were called to the University of Canberra's student residences on Tuesday night.

Police were called to the University of Canberra's student residences on Tuesday night. Credit:Melodie van Wyk

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The man, who was arrested in hospital, faced the ACT Magistrate's Court on Thursday morning.

On Wednesday, film student Aditya Jain was cooking his dinner on the sixth floor of Cooper Lodge when an alarm sounded to evacuate after 7pm. Others described running out the door without their shoes, or with few belongings, as the alarm system advised them to "avoid the fourth floor".

Students were put up in the nearby refectory with pizza and movies until about midnight, when most were allowed back in, save for those on the fourth floor.

But late on Wednesday morning students were evacuated again and more emergency crews with hazmat gear descended on the campus. By 8pm mostly police remained on scene.

Third-year law student Mudit Bhandari said he thought the initial evacuation was a hoax at first.

Cooper Lodge residents Aditya Jain (left) and Mudit Bhandari after they were evacuated from their residence, with police cordoning off the area

Cooper Lodge residents Aditya Jain (left) and Mudit Bhandari after they were evacuated from their residence, with police cordoning off the areaCredit:Lawrence Atkin

The next morning when he returned to the lodge after class about 11.30am he found even more police and fire trucks outside.

"They wouldn't let us back in, it was all a big quarantine zone," he said.

While level three and four of Cooper Lodge, as well as commercial buildings nearby, were evacuated again on Wednesday afternoon, by the evening a university spokeswoman confirmed just parts of the fourth floor remained cordoned off.

A small number of affected students had been relocated to different rooms for the night, she said.

Cooper Lodge at the University of Canberra is evacuated and cordoned off by police

Cooper Lodge at the University of Canberra is evacuated and cordoned off by policeCredit:Lawrence Atkin

Melodie van Wyk said she and her friends had remained inside the lodge during the evacuation as they were worried if they left they would be locked out.

"We're kind of trapped here until they tell us what's happening, we need to study," she said.

Mr Bhandari said the university had been looking after students well as they waited it out.

“They’ve said they’ll give us extensions on work and there’s free food and counselling, there's support," he said.

Third-year student Harrison Thiele, who lives on campus nearby, said fire alarms had often gone off in Cooper Lodge but he hadn't heard of anything like Tuesday night's incident before.

"My friend was on the first floor, he didn't even have time to get his shoes on."

Students travelled to neighbouring halls or pulled out sleeping bags in the Refectory to wait out the initial evening evacuation, he said.

The university's director of student life, Scott Pearsall, thanked students for their patience in an email on Thursday morning.

"We understand that disruptions can be particularly difficult at this time of the year," Mr Pearsall's email read. "Our student welfare and medical and counselling teams are available for support."

The university's student representative council postponed its Halloween event on Wednesday night due to the partial closure of Cooper Lodge.

Dan Jervis-Bardy is a Canberra Times reporter.

Sherryn Groch is a reporter for The Canberra Times, with a special interest in education and social affairs