By Lindsay Mower, Layout Editor
UMF building, Ricker Addition, suffered an estimated $200,000 worth of damage over February break when a malfunctioning sprinkler cap burst, sending nearly 40,000 gallons of water into the building damaging mechanical systems and machinery, destroying carpets and destabilizing walls. The Sweatt-Winter Daycare Program held on the first floor of the building was in session at the time of the incident on Feb. 17th around 10:00am, however all occupants were able to evacuate safely. The building will be closed for repairs for an estimated four weeks.
Jeffrey Mckay, Director of Facilities Management at UMF said the malfunction happened completely by chance.“The branch arm end cap failed. We don’t know why, the sprinkler company doesn’t know why, but it blew off, and that’s associated with the fire pump, so you’re given several hundred gallons per second of water, and it was going for 10 minutes,” he said.
Laurie Gardner UMF Executive Director for Finance and Administration said that she thinks it is best that this incident happened over break, considering the nature of the system that failed.“It’s a highly pressurized system. You’ve got to think about it, it’s the fire suppression system. Its job when it goes off is to put out the fire,” said Gardner.
McKay said most of the UMF maintenance crew started tearing up the carpet immediately after the sprinkler system was deactivated in attempt to save the plywood underneath. ServiceMaster, an emergency cleaning company that deals with water extraction was brought in over the next several days to direct UMF facilities on what actions they should be taking to save the building from as much damage as possible. “They told us what we had to remove as far as opening up walls and getting the moisture out and taking up floors. We are still taking out some floors but most of the moisture issue has been resolved now,” said McKay.
Stephen Decker a custodian in Stone Hall who was part of the cleanup crew the day of the incident said it was very intense.“Most of the custodians were there,” said Decker. “They worked I guess until like 7:00 at night trying to solve the problems and stop the leaking.”
McKay said facilities are now working on taking up a few last floors and making it habitable again, which is new flooring, wall repair and new ceiling tiles. A fire alarm system that was brand new will also have to be replaced, as well as a damaged photocopier and projector.
Gardener said that facilities maintenance did a phenomenal job in reacting to this incident.“They moved fast and efficiently. People mobilized immediately which was great, and that actually saved the building, it really did, there was no hesitation there so that was a good thing,” she said.
The very first thing that facilities did was put plastic over everything that they could potentially save. “They estimated that they had 10,000 dollars worth of children’s books in there, but facilities were able to get covers on them and they saved them,” said McKay.
Students shouldn’t be affected by this incident too much.“We’ve relocated everyone for about four weeks, we’re anticipating, to vacant classrooms within the university,” said Gardner.
The Sweatt-Winter Daycare kids have been moved to Lockwood Hall until they can return to their normal location.
Ricker Addition was not the only building to undergo damage over break; according to McKay the basement of Purington Hall had a frozen sprinkler head burst causing around $1,000 worth of damage, Olsen Student Center had issues causing some heaters to need to replaced at an estimated $3,000 to $4,000, and a student’s room in Frances Allen Black Hall received minor damage. Gardner said that Ricker Addition was the focus for facilities maintenance.
McKay said that the damages setback facilities from making some changes they had planned to over break. While some of the scheduled work did get completed, they didn’t make the progress they would have liked to.“We had to keep plugging away at everything else going on as well as trying to deal with this emergency,” said McKay. “But we can’t not keep moving. We will regroup and we plan to start up again on the next break, so we will finish up what didn’t get done.”
As far as the cost of renovation, Gardner says that UMF anticipates that an insurance claim will cover most of the damage. “We do have capital reserves that we had earmarked for emergencies, but we will be pursuing an insurance claim for this damage,” said Gardner.
McKay said that UMF has some new plans for future renovations. “Our departments are making changes and one of the changes that we’re making is that when we do a renovation in an area, whether it’s doing it in an emergency or an upgrade, it’s going to be a true upgrade. So we’re replacing either the same or better quality products when we do this repair. And that’s an approach moving forward that facilities management is going to take,” he said.
“It’s always better to be proactive in maintenance rather than reactive, and unfortunately the expression they use in facilities management is that we’re not picking the projects, the projects are picking us,” said President Foster during a phone-call interview. She says that UMF strives to be aware of the conditions of the buildings so that they can be ready and preventive rather than reactive.
President Foster said that students can help in a way that would be really valuable to the UMF community, and that is to thank facilities maintenance.“This has been a particularly difficult winter to stay on top of things,” said President Foster. “So if the students see somebody, custodial or facilities, all the people who are helping us to keep our facilities as functional as they are, it would be great if you could just extend a thank you and give some appreciation for what they do everyday.”