Water cut off to some west campus buildings

Water was shut off to the west end of campus May 25, to fix a leaking pipe in the parking lot next to Rasmuson Hall. The leak was discovered May 24, due to water found seeping to the surface at 11:30 a.m., after rain dried from the rest of the pavement.

“It happened overnight, basically,” Chris Mizelle, interim director for facilities maintenance operations, said.

A bay of the West Campus Central Lot, north of Rasmuson Hall and east of Gordon W. Harlieb Hall, is closed until the source of the leaking water can be found and fixed. In order to repair the leak a valve had to be shut off, which prevented water from entering the Lucy Cuddy Hall, Gordon Hartlieb Hall, Auto/Diesel Technology Building, Professional Studies Building, Wendy Williamson Auditorium, Sally Monserud Hall and Eugene Short Hall.

“They’re doing everything they can to source the leak and repair it,” said Megan Olson, assistant vice chancellor of university relations.

Mizelle said they hoped to have water returned to the buildings before the end of Memorial Day weekend. In the meantime, portable bathrooms will sit outside the buildings and bottled water will be provided to students and staff.

“We are hopeful at the moment that we will get (the parking bay) back in service in a week or so,” said Chris Turletes, interim vice chancellor for facilities and campus services. “Worst case it would be several weeks.”

By looking at a blueprint from 30 years ago, the footprint of a now nonexistent building was found. It is believed the pipe used to feed this building was capped and is now leaking.

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“Right now the piece of pipe is a branch off of the main,” Turletes said. “It might as well be the main.”

He said two things could cause this pipe to leak: rust corroding the pipe or water sitting, virtually still, in the pipe. The deep freeze this winter could have allowed frost to travel to the pipe, ten feet below the surface, freezing and expanding the water to break the pipe. Turletes said this deep frost would just now be melting, causing water to gush through the crack.

“If it was shady and unplowed and the snow had been on it all year, we’d probably have no problem,” Mizelle said. “When you uncover these fire hydrants for fire code and have the parking lots plowed, the frost just goes straight down.”

Turletes isn’t completely ruling out other options, including that another pipe is leaking, such as one connected to the nearby fire hydrant. If the old pipe is the source, it will be cut off from the main to prevent the problem from happening again.

A crew slowly worked around utilities May 25 to find the broken pipe.

“It’s never in a nice free open area,” Turletes said. “It’s always in a congested area.”

He said he was unsure of the exact cost, but said it will easily reach $100,000. The cost could increase to $500,000 depending on what problems arise. Turletes said water takes the path of least resistance, following utility lines or other easy paths, generally in a down-hill direction until it eventually hit the surface. The water could have created holes under the asphalt, which would need to be filled to prevent future pavement problems.

Turletes hopes emergency money will be provided to pay for the unexpected problem.

“Right now we are taking it out of operating funds,” he said, “which means some project won’t get done.”

Olson said the campus was able to react quickly to the surprise due to the response team created for such emergencies. The group consists of the university police chief, dean of students, and staff from University Relations and Facilities. Turletes said staff and contractors would take time out of their Memorial Day weekend to find and fix the leak.

“We’re on it and hope to have it done without impact to the summer school schedule,” Turletes said. “I think that is the best we can ask for at the moment.”