Water poured from the attic of F.W. Olin Center last Thursday, flooding the building from the third floor to the basement, following the failure of a sprinkler line after persistently cold temperatures caused the line to freeze. The flooding created widespread damage on the south side of the building, but the north side reopened for normal use on Monday, March 2.
The south side will probably not reopen until fall term, according to Assistant Director of Facilities Marc Donovan. The north and south sides of the building are on split electrical systems, so the north side of the building is able to operate autonomously, without the operability of the south side.
According to Chair of the Geology Department Donald Rodbell, water was coming out of the burst sprinkler line at 90 psi for about a half hour before the water could be shut off. The burst sprinkler line was apparently the main line for the sprinkler system on the south side of the building, said Rodbell, and when it broke, pressure dropped in the building, which set off the fire alarms.
When fire alarms began to go off, students evacuated the building, according to Tim Hagan ’16, though many students did not know that the building was flooding. Stan Soroka ’16, who was with Hagan in Olin 204 when the fire alarms began to sound, stated, “We did not know what was happening, so most people left their belongings in the classroom.”
After Hagan was informed that there was a burst pipe in Olin, he went up to the door of the building and told Campus Safety officers that he needed to retrieve his belongings. His classroom was flooding when he reached it, and he “grabbed everyone’s stuff and moved it away from the water.”
Soroka’s belongings, however, were underneath a fallen ceiling tile, and, when he retrieved his belongings from the classroom, “they were all soaked, and there were 2-3 inches of water” in his backpack. Soroka stated that Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Therese McCarty told him “to work with a faculty member to put together a list of items that were damaged.”
Marc Donovan said that Union will work with students whose property was damaged as a result of the flooding and, “Depending on the type of property and whether or not it can be cleaned and reused, the College will either replace the items or have them cleaned.”
For students whose notes were destroyed two weeks before the final exam period is set to begin, professors are reportedly being helpful and understanding.
Tim Hagan stated that Chair of the Chemistry Department Kristin Fox, the professor whose class he was attending in Olin, “was awesome. This girl, Hannah (Stein ’16) copied her notes, and Professor Fox sent them to everybody. … Professor Fox coordinated a data-recovery, let’s-make-sure-everyone-has-notes-for-finals thing.”
The flooding will also affect student research. Rodbell stated that students working on geology theses will be limited in the data to which they have access, because many of the geology department’s analytical instruments were located in rooms that flooded.
He said that the department is trying to find commercial labs that will run student samples, which can be expensive.
Rodbell said that professors and students alike ran down to the shared instrumentation suite, known as the IRIS lab, when they heard that the building was flooding, where they immediately began covering the vulnerable equipment in plastic.
He said that the equipment will not be turned back on until technicians evaluate the damage to the machines.
In the event of a full loss of all the equipment in the IRIS lab, Rodbell said replacement could cost between $1.2-$1.5 million. The National Science Foundation funded most of the equipment in the lab, and all of it was fully insured.
The damaged equipment will also affect faculty research. According to Rodbell, “Our work is our thesis students’ work, as well.” Rodbell also stated that a high-voltage laser lab was largely destroyed in the flooding. The laser lab housed the research of Associate Professor Andrew Huisman, who is an atmospheric chemist.
When he received news that the building was flooding, Huisman went back in, but his equipment was turned on when the flooding started, and because it runs at such a high voltage, he had to wait until an electrician cut off the power to the building to go into his lab.
Huisman believes that his machine, which levitates a particle, was likely completely destroyed, which will set his research back substantially, as he built a good portion of the machine by hand.
He stated that several departments have already been very helpful in aiding in the continuation of his research and that the administration will do what it can to help him get back to his previous levels of research. Because Huisman is on the tenure track at Union, his research is vital to his advancement in academia.
He will assess the equipment used in his laser lab and send corroded and damaged instruments and components back to their manufacturers.
The full extent of the damages to the south side of the building is currently unknown, but Marc Donovan stated that the college has hired Sano-Rubin, a construction manager, to evaluate the building with the assistance of an industrial hygienist and engineers from various fields.
Until the extent of the damages is known, the financial impact of the flooding will also be unknown, but, according to Donovan, “The College is insured for this type of loss,” and the insurance claim will not affect student tuition.
Additionally, classes whose classrooms were located on the south side of Olin have been relocated, and final exams that were scheduled to take place in Olin have been moved to various other academic buildings on campus, according to emails from the Office of Communications and Assistant Registrar Andrew Lentz.
Matt Wu contributed reporting.