Cold Causes Pipes to Burst

Drew Kaplan '20, Opinion Editor

Due to record breaking cold temperatures over winter break, several water pipes burst in the Rector Science Complex, Tome Hall, South College, Buchanan Hall, and two small houses. In addition, the heater for the pool in the Kline Center also failed.

In an email, Kristen Kostecky, associate vice president of facilities said, “We had three different sprinkler pipe breaks in the Rector/Tome complex over winter break.  In each case, the pipes froze due to the extremely cold air temperatures.  Sprinkler pipes are not insulated and are typically run through non-conditioned plenums so they are susceptible to freezing. In one of the incidents, we discovered that a small opening in the exterior was allowing cold air to flow directly into the plenum cavity.”

“We haven’t had weather this cold since this building was built,” said Tom Hancock, the facilities mechanic who first responded to the broken pipe in Rector.  He continued to say that when the pipe first broke, “a fire alarm went off.” A pipe had broken previously in Tome, and he thought that another pipe had broken in the complex.

“I heard the fire pumps were running, so I … shut them off,” said Hancock. “Then I got a phone call saying there was water coming in in Rector.” Hancock added that “four or five rooms” had been affected. However, the damage was largely limited, “the main thing was some wet drywall.”

Janice Wiss, academic department coordinator for chemistry and biology, who was moved to a temporary office after a pipe burst above her office, stated, “I heard what I thought was icicles falling down. I heard what I thought was a toilet flushing. I looked up, and the next thing I know I started seeing black water coming down from the ceiling.” Wiss said that she evacuated from her office, and alerted others in the building that an evacuation was necessary. “I ended up calling the fire department,” added Wiss, “because the lights went out in the building.” Wiss added that although the water ran for “only a few minutes,” many of the offices were turned into “little rainforests, mine being one of them.” She added that the pipe bursting “ended up not being that big of a catastrophe” because teaching spaces in the building were largely unaffected.

Michael Roberts, associate professor of biology, said, “The fortunate thing about the event was that it happened during the day. There are enough people around that as soon as the leaking was detected, people volunteered to help one another out.” Roberts said that the help from others in the building made the pipe breaking a “less traumatic event than it would have been otherwise. If it had happened in the middle of the night, … it could have done a lot of serious damage.”

Some student residences were also affected. According to Amanda George, the community advisor for the upper quads, “there was a water leak in Buchanan around Jan. 12. It impacted common areas and about three student rooms. We reached out to residents impacted to inform them of the issue and the resolution.”

Bryce Haver ’20, was one of the Buchanan Hall residents affected. He reported that, over the break, he and his roommate received an email from Amber Kelly, a residential life area coordinator, which stated that “because of the unusually cold temperatures, yesterday [Jan. 12] a water pipe burst in the stairwell… Because of the location of your room, some water did seep on to the floor of your room from the hallway.” He explained that the water coming under his door had saturated a rug. The college determined that the rug was beyond salvage, and is compensating Haver for his loss. “It was a little bit of an inconvenience.”

In the case of the pool heater, Kostecky wrote in an email that “the flame in the domestic water heater at the Kline burned through the unit.  The cause is under investigation.” She continued to elaborate that the heater had been slated for replacement prior to its failure due to its age.

Paul Richards, head swim coach, said in an email that although the new heater is in place, the team had to practice at “local colleges and high schools” because the pool “will take a significant amount of time to recapture [an] appropriate water temp[erature].”

Mikey Kmetz ’19 also added, “It’s a little off putting to walk in [to Rector] and see [the destroyed ceiling tiles].”

Students expressed concern, but not surprise, about the pipes. According to Patrick Moore ’20, “I think it a testament to how cold the weather has been this past winter break.”