Water main fixed at Consortium Library, building returns to normal hours

On Sunday, Feb. 25, the Consortium Library returned to normal hours following the fix of a valve that failed from corrosion.

Crews installing the new valve. Photo by Associate Project Manager Eric Lopez, courtesy of UAA Facilities, Planning & Construction.

The Consortium Library was closed Monday, Feb. 19,  after a water main break outside the north side of the building. The library reopened on Wednesday with limited hours.

The library returned to normal hours Sunday, after construction crews finished work over the weekend, said Stephen Rollins, dean of the library, in an interview with The Northern Light.

Rollins said that there was no damage to any of the library’s collections even though some water seeped into the areas along the north side of the building. 

He said that there was minimal damage and everything is now dried out, adding that UAA Facilities did a great job addressing the problem.

The most visible impact, he said, is the area of the parking lot currently barriered-off where crews dug to fix the water main.

The damaged water main supplied water to the newer section of the library and was shut off while repairs took place.

With the water supply cut off, the bathrooms and fire suppression systems in the newer section were without water — leading to the need for a fire watch and the library closing at 8 p.m. in the following days, instead of the usual closing time of midnight for students. 

Angelica Del Angel is the evening supervisor of the library. She spoke with The Northern Light about her experience with changes to operations after the flooding.

Normally working from 4 p.m. to midnight, the library’s temporary hours meant she was coming in earlier than normal. Del Angel said that she had just gotten used to her normal schedule so the change was a disruption. 

She said that library staff were helping to redirect people to the Social Science Building and ARLIS for bathrooms. 

Del Angel said that some people expressed frustration at the bathroom closures and difficulty in finding the ARLIS bathrooms. To accommodate the disruption, she said that they kept the gate  separating the library from the Social Science Building open until 8 p.m.

Even after the line was fixed, there were some new problems that cropped up, such as a small leak on the second floor near the bathrooms and the temporary disablement of water fountains used to refill water bottles.

In an interview with The Northern Light, Chris McConnell, director of UAA Facilities Planning and Construction, said that the leak found on the second floor was quickly fixed.

He said that the opening and closing of the water supply to the building disturbed some sediment in pipes, showing up in water being flushed out of the system, such as in bathroom sinks. 

McConnell said the sediment is why water fountains were disabled, needing the filters replaced.

Also, he said, the amount of sediment was a visible example of the age of the piping system and university's issue with deferred maintenance — a point raised by Dean Rollins and others as well. 

The backlog of deferred maintenance faced by the University of Alaska is estimated to be at $1.4 billion. 

The ultimate cause of the water main break, McConnell said, was a failed valve.

The damaged gate from inside the valve that needed to be replaced. Photo by Associate Project Manager Eric Lopez, courtesy of UAA Facilities, Planning & Construction.

The valve allowed for the control of water along the main. To shut off the water after the break, crews closed a similar valve further up the line. 

In the days following the flooding, facilities worked  to unearth the valve — digging down through the parking lot north of the library.

McConnell said that several bolts holding the valves together had corroded away and that the mechanism inside the valve itself was damaged, warranting the need for a replacement. 

McConnell said that a replacement was purchased from Anchorage Water Waste and Utility and that crews installed it by Friday. 

But, he said, there was another valve a few feet away from the damaged one, and they wanted to check it to make sure it didn’t also have problems — pushing the project back through the weekend.

The second valve was okay, so they were able to restore water to the library and get it returned to normal operations over the weekend. 

McConnell estimated the cost of damages — including replacement of the valve, clean up, repaving and landscaping — at about $100,000. Though, he said, that amount is probably a little bit of an overestimate.

Aside from drying out some library spaces, McConnell said there wasn’t any major damage. And the repaving of the parking lot will likely take place in the summer.

He said there might be some long-term impact to the stability of the soils in the area because of the amount of flooding, but that will remain to be seen.

McConnell said the whole operation went  well and that it could have been a lot more impactful. He said he was impressed with the availability of parts and labor, despite reports of supply chain issues and tight labor markets. 

Students can now return to the library for late night studying after 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.