Student Center Water Main Break

Rebecca Stafford Student Center Food Court Closed Due to Water Main Break

Water Main Break in Student Center Repaired by Independent Contractor

Student Center Water Main BreakThe Rebecca Stafford Student Center had a water main break on Wednesday, April 4, which resulted in the facility losing water and food services until Thursday afternoon. 

“The water leak was discovered by Facilities Management employees during the course of their work [on Wednesday]. We were very lucky that they found it before there was major damage,” said Patricia Swannack, Vice President for Administrative Services, “The leak occurred in a vertical pipe that was approximately three feet below concrete.” 

Swannack described how the leak had to be located by breaking up the layers of concrete around the water pipe with the use of jackhammers. The pipe broke at a seam where it had been originally welded to another one over time, while the concrete that had been installed around it, making locating the leak a time-consuming process. Water to the building was shut off at about 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday to prevent damage.

Vice President for Student Life and Leadership Engagement Mary Anne Nagy said that the dining facilities were shut down at about 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night to allow for campus personnel to start repair work. 

“We called in Farrell Construction who has worked on several projects on campus, including the Science Building,” said Swannack. According to her, the amount of concrete surrounding the broken pipe required the use of specialized equipment that the University does not have, meaning that the external contracting company was needed. “We knew that they had larger equipment which we thought would be needed to perform the repair. They responded immediately. They worked until approximately 1:00 a.m. with our in-house plumber and returned at 7:00 a.m. to complete the repair.” 

Nagy explained that the contracting company had originally expected to have the building resume operation at its regular hours, but the complexity of the issue required that more time be taken for repair work by Farrell Construction. Gourmet Dining was notified that the dining facilities would have to be shut down temporarily.

“From a health and safety perspective, you need water to cook, you need water to sanitize, you need water for people to use restrooms and whenever you have food, and when you don’t have access to clean running water, you can’t have food,” said Nagy.

The earliest the building could be reopened with water and dining facilities restored was 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Joseph Firetto, a senior accounting student who was studying overnight for exams in the Student Center, described having to leave campus and go to McDonald’s for restroom facilities late at night. The following day when dining services in the Student Center were temporarily closed, Firetto said, “I didn’t really have access to food in the building, but I was lucky enough to have meal swipes left to go to the dining hall, but it was an inconvenience.”

“This is only a temporary repair. We will need to shut the water off for two or three days to permanently repair the pipe,” Swannack said, “The work can be scheduled when there is minimal impact.”

“We [used] a temporary coupling which held, which is a temporary solution until we can identify several days that we would need to limit access to [the Student Center] so that we can do the final solution,” said Nagy. She has not yet determined which days are best for this procedure to take place but aims to make it as small of a disruption to student life as possible.

“If the leak occurred over a weekend or overnight the damage could have been much more significant,” Swannack explained, “The majority of the equipment for the Stafford Center is located in the mechanical room. The water pressure was so intense that the entire room could have been filled with water very quickly.”

Nagy stressed that this type of situation can never be anticipated and that she believes the University to be well-equipped to respond and deal with these types of emergency situations with campus facilities.

Nagy praised Facilities Management employees that were able to respond quickly and have the contractor on campus within eight hours of finding the leak.

“Like any project, as you start to dig and you start to get further, sometimes you can correct it the way you thought, and other times you realize that it’s a lot more complicated and that you’re going to need much more time,” Nagy said.

“We were fortunate that our employees discovered the leak during their boiler room inspections,” Swannack said.

Nagy also pointed to the effectiveness of campus food provider Gourmet Dining, which upon hearing about the leak and closure of food facilities, provided extra staff to food sales at Plangere and Bey Hall. Dunkin Donuts also provided extra baked goods for sale at the locations in academic buildings, with the excess being donated to the Relay for Life event on Friday, according to Nagy.

PHOTO COURTESY of Patti Swannack