|The tunnels between Nathaniel Rochester Hall and Sol Heumann Hall.
Watching water flow from electrical outlets and light fixtures is not something you expect to be part of your college experience, but that’s exactly what the residents of Nathaniel Rochester Hall (NRH) saw on Tuesday, April 27. Just before noon, a domestic hot water return line on the eighth floor of the building burst, sending water pouring downwards through the walls, along electrical lines and through elevator shafts. Luke Trapani, a first year Mechanical Engineering major and NRH resident in the building at the time, said, “You could put your hand on the walls and feel hot water rushing down behind it.”
Power and water services to the building were shut off almost immediately after the incident. Although NRH is equipped with an emergency power system, it could not be utilized because the generator is cooled by the building’s water system. Without this cooling, the generator couldn’t be activated without being badly damaged. Without power in the bathrooms, rooms and stairwells, all residents had to be evacuated. The Corner Store, the NRH computer lab and the NRH Post Office were also forced to close.
According to Randy Vercauteren, director of Parking, Transportation and Building Services with Facilities Managements Services (FMS), once the water had been turned off, the broken pipe was quickly identified and repaired. Water was then restored to the building. At approximately 2:30 p.m., the emergency power was restored, and residents were allowed to return to their rooms. One of FMS’s first priorities after that was to restore main power. “We began systematically identifying the areas that were affected, electrically. We isolated those areas so that when we turned the building back on, those areas would not come on, and it would keep the building safe,” said Vercauteran. FMS had full power restored just before 6 p.m.
Shortly after the power was restored to the building, a fire alarm was triggered, causing the building to be evacuated for the second time that day. “Sometimes when the power transfers from the emergency power to the regular power, it can set off the panel to the alarm, and that’s what happened here,” Vercauteren said.
Getting electrical and water services functioning in the building quickly was a monumental task. Luckily, departments all across campus were able to respond quickly and efficiently. It took the cooperation between the Center for Residence Life, Housing Operations, Public Safety, Environmental Health and Safety, Risk Management, and FMS.
To help deal with the crisis, RIT brought in the local company Allpro Cleaning and Restoration, which specializes in water damage. “The first step is to remove everything that’s wet from the walls,” said Vercauteren. To that end, the drywall on the northern walls of all the elevator lobbies has been removed. Specialized dehumidifiers and air movers have been brought in to dry the areas that were the most heavily damaged. This is mainly the elevator lobbies, kitchenettes and the bathrooms that are just north of all the elevator lobbies. Vercauteren estimated that repairs to these areas would take between seven and 14 days to complete.
Seven of the rooms on the eighth floor had to be evacuated for several days due to severe water damage. Housing Operations arranged hotel reservations and special parking passes for these students, but none of them took advantage of the offer. Instead, each of them opted to stay with friends living on campus.
According to Vercauteren, the burst pipe was an unexpected, but not abnormal event. “The pipe broke, it’s just that simple. It happens all the time, water mains burst on streets and it happens at RIT. We don’t know why this particular pipe broke, and not any other pipe. It was just an isolated incident.”