A ceiling sprinkler pipe ruptured in Memorial Hall last Sunday due to low temperatures and high winds, causing water and hazardous waste to flood sections of the building. The pipe burst above the elevator on the landing of the fourth floor stairwell next to Wish Theater.   
After the pipe broke, over 1,200 gallons of water flooded both the elevator shaft and the ceilings as well as walls of sections of the third and fourth floors. After filling the pit at the bottom of the shaft, the water spread potentially toxic hydraulic fluids across the ground floor lobby.   

The flood became potentially toxic as the water carried hydraulic fluid from a bucket at the bottom of the pit in the elevator shaft across the ground level. Due to normal use of the hydraulically powered elevator, fluid drains into a several gallon bucket that inspectors empty during regular maintenance.

 “There could have been a gallon or two of oil down in there, and of course we had 1,200 gallons of water,” explained Associate Director of Facilities Operations Jeff Tuttle. According to Tuttle, the oil may have been safe and vegetable-based, but to ensure safe cleanup, it was treated as toxic. 

When the pipe broke at about 4 p.m., the alarm system in Memorial was activated, and its occupants had to evacuate and wait for emergency services to arrive and begin the multiple day cleanup process. While this particular stairwell has never had issues, this is the fourth time a water-related incident has occurred in the building.

 According to Technical Director of Theater and Dance Deborah Puhl, in the last six years, pipes have exploded in other sections of the building due to cold weather. Last year, one of the roof drains froze, resulting in a flood. A malfunctioning heater the previous year caused a pipe to freeze and burst in a different stairwell. In a similar instance about six years ago, a box placed on a heater on the sixth floor triggered the rupture of a pipe. 

Members of the Office of Safety and Security and the Brunswick Fire Department responded to the incident Sunday evening. Eventually, they were forced to cut the building’s water supply. By that time, the mixture of toxic fluid and water had spread to cover most of Drake Lobby, the office of Director of Theater Operations Michael Schiff-Verre and the entrance to Wish Theater. The stairwell and the walls of the third and fourth floors in front of the elevator also sustained damage. 

Due to the location of the burst, the majority of the water spilled into the elevator shaft. It did not extend into any classrooms or Wish Theater.  

“I would say that literally another ten minutes and it probably would’ve gotten into Wish because it had just reached the door to Wish when they shut it off,” said Puhl, who was present in Memorial Hall during the evacuation.

 When Puhl was exiting the building, the elevator had opened on the second floor as part of its safety protocol. She noticed water rushing down the shaft and around the elevator.

 “It was almost like a hose had been turned on above the elevator,” she said. “By the time Security got here, there was already a pool of water on the stone down there in Drake Lobby.”
  Within several hours, the water recovery and toxic waste removal companies Servpro and Clean Harbors arrived at the scene. The removal of the toxic hydraulic fluid and water continued through Sunday night, and the process of drying the remaining water lasted throughout the week.  The elevator was also out of commission Monday due to inspection. Servpro and Facilities cut holes in the walls of the third and fourth floor landings and placed fans and dehumidifiers in the building to assist in the restoration.  

Tuttle hopes that by the end of the week, there will no longer be any moisture present in the walls and carpet and Facilities can begin patching damaged drywall and commencing remedial efforts, including re-insulation. Tuttle estimates the repair and service costs to exceed thousands of dollars.   

“Above the ceiling where this was, we’re actually going to take that ceiling and we’re going to re-insulate it,” Tuttle said. “It’s insulated but just probably not to the degree that it should be for whatever reason.”  

 Facility’s re-insulation and re-piping efforts after past floods have been successful in preventing repeated events in the affected areas.  However, a larger restoration process in the old building may be necessary to stop the trend of water-related disasters.

 By Monday, the building was safe to enter; however, due to the ongoing maintenance, morning classes in Memorial Hall were relocated. Assistant Professors of Theater Abigail Killeen and Diomedes Koufteros had to move their morning classes to the Edwards Center for Art and Dance.

 “Everyone worked really hard to make it a smooth day for the students,” said Killeen, who had to relocate and shorten her Acting I class Monday morning.   

Plans to re-carpet the lower lobby this coming summer were already in place prior to the accident. Over Winter Break, the College changed the carpet on the second floor of Memorial Hall; however, due to time constraints, they decided to wait to renovate the bottom floor lobby.