With cold weather, flooding in dorms

Several residence halls have dealt with flooding following recent pipe bursts.

An extended period of cold weather has led to multiple pipe bursts and several facilities flooding on Main Campus, university officials said.

The Temple News previously reported that Morgan Hall North flooded on Feb. 13 due to a sprinkler head bursting near an 11th floor window. The incident caused students on the floor to evacuate and find alternative housing, a university spokesman said.

During the past few weeks, multiple buildings on campus have experienced pipe bursts and flooding, said Sean Ounan, assistant director of facilities and operations. Along with Morgan Hall, pipes have burst at Hardwick, Speakman and Barton halls as well as 1940 Residence Hall and a storage shed at Edberg-Olson Hall, he said.

Ounan added that more pipe bursts have been happening because of extremely cold temperatures during an extended period of time. According to Weather Underground, the Weather Channel’s forecast history website, the average temperature from Feb. 15-21 has been 17 degrees, dropping to a low of 2 degrees on Feb. 20.

“What’s leading to these [breaks] is the length of the cold,” he said. “You’re getting a long snap where things having plenty of time to build up and freeze, and it only takes a small window [of time] to defrost [the pipes].”

Robert Siegfried, associate vice president of Facilities Management, said that since sprinkler heads are designed to activate quickly in the event of a fire, they freeze easily in extreme cold temperatures. He demonstrated how this works by displaying a specific part of the head.

“It has this little glass tube, which is filled with a liquid which is designed to boil and then burst,” Siegfried said, pointing to that part of the sprinkler head. “Unfortunately, aside from boiling, it also freezes very easily, because there’s just a little bit of liquid there … once that freezes and expands, it’s going to break that glass.”

All of the cases of a pipe or sprinkler head bursting have been located on an outside wall or close to a window, making it easier for cold air to affect those mechanisms, Siegfried said.

Several students living in residence halls have expressed displeasure with having to evacuate buildings and relocate during the past few weeks. Shelby Modlin, a sophomore neuroscience major living on the sixth floor of Morgan Hall North, said there was a lack of communication between the building’s residents and management.

“I understand in the beginning, there wasn’t any communication because nobody knew what was going on,” Modlin said. “But as the night went on and as things were getting cleaned up, there continued to be no communication … it wasn’t until I came back and discovered the dehumidifiers [in my room] that I couldn’t stay in my room Sunday night … I was just really upset.”

In response to dealing with complaints, Michael Scales, associate vice president for student affairs, said satisfying 100 percent of residents is impossible in emergency situations because it’s natural for them to feel “inconvenienced” in those instances. However, he added that respecting students’ complaints is a vital aspect of his job.

“We’re in the customer service business, so I have to respond to any constructive criticism that anyone gives about my area of responsibility,” Scales said. “But a lot of times what we find when we scope these issues is that it’s a combination of the staff being in the process of working on [fixes] … and those fixes aren’t really quick fixes, and sometimes the students aren’t the most timely with reporting conditions in their room. We see that quite a bit.”

Modlin said she was unaware of the Office of Housing and Residential Life’s policy on personal property, which states that the university “assumes no responsibility for loss or damage to personal property.” She said she was surprised to find that her valuables were not covered by her residential contract with university housing, something she believed would be provided to her as a student-resident.

Lisa Zimmaro, associate vice president of risk management and treasury, said her office sends out contact information for personal property insurance carriers to every student living in an on-campus residence hall before the start of each fall semester.

Along with students, the university also needs to evaluate damage to its property, Zimmaro added. She said that whenever damage to a building occurs, her office collaborates with outside insurance carriers to examine the impact on “the university’s assets” and see if Temple is covered.

Even with the recent damage to buildings, Jim Creedon, senior vice president for construction, facilities and operations, said that because of how extreme the weather has been lately, replacing pipes and other aspects of the university’s infrastructure might not be worth the cost in the long run.

“You have to ask yourself, when we would do this, ‘Is it really worth going in and finding every potential risk?’” Creedon said. “What’s the cost of fixing [a problem] compared to the downside, which is once every five years, you have this cold weather, and something happens … from a building perspective, like Conwell, Carnell, Wachman, Speakman, those types of buildings, you can fix the little things, but you’re not going to spend a ton of money making sure every pipe could never potentially freeze.”

Creedon said his staff is still collaborating with Residential Life to see if any major overhaul is needed for residence halls.

However, he added that if the weather continues to be freezing, handling these leaks may be something the university will have to continue to deal with.

“In the three years I’ve been here, I don’t remember this many in as short a period of time,” Creedon said. “Over the course of a winter, they kind of blur together after a while. You’re going to have a few that occur – but not in a week or 10 days.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steven.bohnel@temple.edu on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.

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