After a pipe burst in J&H, students were forced out of the building for two hours.
Students in the Johnson and Hardwick Halls were evacuated Jan. 24 at 11 p.m. after a frozen sprinkler pipe burst in the Johnson & Hardwick cafeteria. Residents were given the option of waiting in Mitten Hall while maintenance controlled the situation, eventually allowing students to return at approximately 1 a.m.
“When we’re inside when the weather is bad, we think we’re safe, and generally we are, but especially in large buildings that get a lot of use, [such as] Johnson and Hardwick [Halls], the opportunities for failure unfortunately multiply when the weather gets crazy,” said William Jalbert, the director for university housing maintenance operations.
Jalbert said that when water moves through pipes and encounters an ice blockage, pressure can build, causing them to burst.
The vegetarian section of J&H was closed last week while maintenance repaired ceiling tiles, drywall, floors and carpeting. The area was painted and refinished to match previous designs and reopened Feb. 1.
“Drywall becomes an issue because you have to remove it once it gets soaked like that because it does store moisture,” Jalbert said. “It’s just quicker to cut it out and replace it than have to find out you’ve got mold growing.”
Water traveled through the ceiling and reached a maintenance office and air conditioning shop in the basement, leaving them off limits to students until repairs were made.
The sprinkler system and the fire alarm are linked, so when the pipe burst, students were sent outside and told by resident assistants to find somewhere warm to wait while the situation was fixed. Mitten Hall was eventually opened, but many had already crowded into 7-Eleven, Maxi’s, the Owl’s Nest or stayed in other buildings with friends.
“Most of us did our own thing, meandering around campus, trying to find a place to keep our bodies warm,” said Edward Schroeder, a freshman university studies major. “Although [I’m] extremely annoyed at the situation, Temple handled it the best [it] could and only kept us out for our own safety.”
Before making the decision to relocate students, residence staff usually waits 15-20 minutes to get a better idea of how long repairs will take.
“If we start moving them and realize we could bring them back in, that’s a waste of everyone’s time,” said Kevin Williams, the director of residential life.
The sprinkler pipe break came hours after a steam pipe broke on the second floor of Johnson Hall, damaging the belongings of freshman philosophy major Zach Marcin.
Jalbert said the situation completely differed from what happened in J&H. The pipe that broke in the dorm room was the result of a failed valve due to old age.
“Fortunately in this case, one of the residents was in the room at the time, so we were able to get the information quickly and get there pretty fast,” Jalbert said. “If the room’s unoccupied, we don’t usually hear about it until the people in the rooms next to it see the water running out underneath the door or wall into their room.”
Although these situations are not extremely common, maintenance has responded to similar situations over the years and can diagnose and stop them quickly.
“Lots of times what we get from students when they’re reporting things is very vague information, so you have to troubleshoot before you can actually start fixing things,” Jalbert said. “When we get these cases, we usually know exactly what it is.”
Marcin has been relocated to 1940 residence hall while his room undergoes renovations. He and his roommate submitted an itemized list of damaged items to Johnson Hall Resident Director Megan Connelly to file with an insurance company for reimbursement.
“Physical possessions can create a distraction from things you’re dealing with everyday,” Marcin said. “When they’re removed, and you have to sit in a room with just four walls and a bed, you lose that distraction.”
Jalbert said there’s no way students can monitor their own rooms for potential problems.
“I suspect with a lot of the technology we’re seeing that’s coming out in monitoring devices with infrared thermal imaging, there’s probably going to start being ways of diagnosing things like this,” Jalbert said. “As for right now though, it’s just kind of been that you have to wait and see what’s going to happen.”
Cara Stefchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.