Burst pipe plagues Life Science Building

By By Chris Mumford

By Chris Mumford

U administrators coping with the prospect of another round of crippling budget cuts have good reason to feel like the roof is caving in8212;it literally is.

Persistent leaks and occasional ruptures in a dilapidated hot-water pipe in the Life Science Building have forced the indefinite evacuation of more than 40 classes held in four first-floor classrooms.

“We were having a review, and (the pipe) busted and a steady stream of water came out8212;blew the tile,” said Jared Wallace, a senior in biology who said the incident occurred roughly three weeks ago in one of the building’s most-affected classrooms.

Wallace said debris from the rupture got on a student’s coat, which she had to get dry cleaned. The incident might not have been much more than an annoyance, but the prospect of the pressurized, 150-degree water coming into contact with students or faculty prompted the evacuation of classes until the problems can be properly addressed.

“It’s just not a safe thing to have a concentration of people anywhere near that,” said Cory Higgins, associate vice president for facilities management.

Higgins said there have been some 26 maintenance patches on the pipe during the past 12 months, averaging about one per week.

The patches, called Band-Aids, are clamps fitted over the leak until the damaged section of pipe can be completely replaced, but represent the only low-cost means for handling the problem that doesn’t involve replacing the entire pipe at a cost of $2 million, Higgins said.

“The question is, do we put a $2 million Band-Aid on this when it might cost $10 million to make all necessary repairs?” Higgins said.

The $10 million figure refers to the cost of replacing the rest of the building’s pipes8212;which are more than 70 years old8212;including sewage and air conditioning, which are in a comparable state of decay and will be the focus of a six-month cost-benefit analysis that will determine whether to refurbish the building or demolish it altogether, Higgins said.

The building’s custodian, Ron Bateman, spent several hours cleaning up after the most recent leaks and said the pipes that run above classroom 102, where Wallace had his class, have been the biggest source of problems.

“This room was full of steam and real filthy water,” said Bateman, who has worked in the building for a year and a half.

With decisive action on the building at least six months away, the chemistry and math classes held in the building have been scattered to buildings across campus. Work in the labs on the main floor, however, will continue, barring a worsening of the problem, Higgins said.

If and when students can resume work in the building will depend on whether administrators can find room in the evaporating budget for a massive overhaul8212;a possibility that seems increasingly remote as fears of further funding cuts mount.

“That kind of money doesn’t come easy, so it’s not going to be a quick fix,” Higgins said.

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Tyler Cobb

The age of some water and sewage pipes at the U are causing them to decay and burst or leak. Repairing or replacing damaged pipes can cost millions of dollars.