Construction worker found dead on Rothschild College construction site

The university declined to confirm the name of the individual who died.

Rothschild College construction site, as photographed Feb. 22, 2022. (Hustler Staff/Katherine Oung)

Katherine Oung

Rothschild College construction site, as photographed Feb. 22, 2022. (Hustler Staff/Katherine Oung)

Katherine Oung and Aaditi Lele

UPDATED: This article was updated at 11:45 a.m. CST on Feb. 23, 2022, to include information from a public statement from the university and at 11:15 a.m. CST on Feb. 24 to include a statement from Dean of Students G.L. Black.

A construction worker was found dead at the former site of Carmichael Towers and the future site of Vanderbilt’s newest residential college, Rothschild College on the morning of Feb. 19. In a Feb. 23 statement, the university stated that the worker’s cause of death appeared to be of “natural causes” and “not work-site related.” 

An advocate at Dignidad Obrera (Workers’ Dignity), a workers’ center that organizes to promote economic justice in Nashville, stated that the worker was unhoused, living on-site and allegedly found in the basement of the construction site. The advocate also noted that another worker was fired in relation to the matter for undisclosed reasons. The advocate was granted anonymity for protection from employer retribution.

“We are saddened by the terrible news that a member of the construction team working to build Vanderbilt’s newest residential college along West End Avenue has passed away,” G.L. Black, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said in a Feb. 24 email. “We understand there are some questions, and the university can now provide limited information in light of the ongoing investigation.”

The university did not identify the individual. The spokesperson stated that the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department serves as the lead agency on death investigations on campus. 

“We work closely with our external construction partners to maintain the safety and security of our building sites and are also looking into the matter,” the email reads.

Cecilia Prado, co-director of Workers’ Dignity had expressed concern that Vanderbilt had yet to issue a public statement addressing the worker fatality as of Feb. 22. 

“This is a major development project that will impact a whole neighborhood,” Cecilia Prado, co-director of Workers’ Dignity said. “Being transparent about any worker fatality is a very basic thing that Vanderbilt can do to inspire trust in their students and wider community.”

Rothschild College is the second residential college of four total to be built in Vanderbilt’s residential college expansion. It is planned to house students in Fall 2022. The Campus Planning and Construction team did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment about whether the death will affect this timeline, that of other ongoing construction projects, or any other part of the 2022-23 housing process.

Layton Construction Co. and R.C. Mathews Contractor are listed as contractors for the four-part project on the Layton website. Kaitlyn Jones, Director of Communications at R.C. Mathews Contractor clarified in an email to The Hustler that the company has not been involved in a project for Vanderbilt since joint-venturing with Layton for the building of Zeppos College. The Campus Planning and Construction team did not answer The Hustler’s inquiry about which company Hutchinson worked for. Per the Feb.24 email from Black, the worker was not a Vanderbilt employee. 

“We also hope that contractors don’t intimidate their workers to stay silent after this incident goes public and hope that workers don’t face retaliation by contractors if they do decide to speak up, two things that often happen after workplace fatalities in Nashville construction sites,” Prado said. 

On Feb. 22, the Vanderbilt Prison Project sent an email to its members informing them about the death. It encouraged students to show their solidarity with Workers’ Dignity by filling out a registration form to become a worker advocate. 

The Office of Housing and Residential Experience, Metropolitan Nashville Police Department and Layton Construction Co. did not immediately respond to The Hustler’s request for comment about the death or if there have been past incidents with injuries at construction sites.