Sophomore Nathan Guttman woke up in his Coles Tower suite Wednesday morning to the sound of roaring steam escaping from the heating pipe in his closet.
As he sat up in bed, he noticed a quickly growing puddle of black water seeping under the door from the common room to the bedroom where he and one of his roommates, Phillip Valka '07, had been sleeping.
Guttman, realizing that Valka was still asleep, hastily awoke his roommate and they ventured into the common room to see from where the noise and leak were coming.
Guttman and Valka found was that their common room was completely filled with thick steam. "We couldn't see more than a foot or so in front of our faces," said Guttman. The floor of the room was under inches of standing black water from the sprinkler system.
Valka, realizing that the cloud of steam in the room would destroy everything electrical, quickly moved his computer to the bedroom before evacuating. The steam had already done irreversible damage to many of the items in the room.
Guttman and Valka ran downstairs to the lobby of Thorne, where they waited while the Brunswick Fire Department and Facilities arrived to stop the flooding. They were able to stop the problem quickly after arriving on the scene.
"Immediately, they began dumping gallons and gallons of water out our window," said Guttman.
The evacuated Tower residents, waiting in the lobby of Thorne in often little more than their underwear, were unaware of what had happened on the sixth floor.
In an email sent later that day to the students living in Coles Tower, Interim Director of Residential Life Kimberly Pacelli explained to the concerned students the cause of the flooding.
"Facilities Management was in the process of fixing a steam pipe on the sixth floor," Pacelli explained. "In doing so, steam from the heating system was emitted, activating the sixth floor sprinkler system."
While the original fixing of the pipe was little more than a routine correction, it was a number of unfortunate coincidences that lead to the eventual flooding of the sixth floor.
The contactor who had come to fix the pipe was responding to a complaint from Guttman, whose closet was always humid and warm to the point that a number of varieties of mold had started to grow.
Although Facilities had worked on the pipe a number of times before, the problem persisted, Valka said. When the door to Guttman's closet eventually became swollen shut, the roommates decided to contact Facilities once more.
Facilities sent a contractor to the room, who decided the problem was a leaky expansion joint in the pipe. He removed the joint and was working on it elsewhere when the situation occurred.
"The contractor thought he had turned off the heat," said Pacelli in an interview with the Orient. A number of pipes and valves in the basement of the Tower had been mislabeled.
The heat kicked in while the pipe was open, filling Guttman's closet with steam. The steam, in turn, set off the sprinkler system as if there had been a fire and murky water from the sprinklers covered the floor of both 6C and 6D before seeping into the elevator shafts, stairwells, and rooms directly below.
"The mistake that caused this was evidently done a while back when they were labeling the pipes, so I don't think it was immediately the fault of anybody here, now," said Guttman. "It was still the College's fault, though, and so far, they're helping us out pretty well."
Bowdoin is paying for affected students to stay at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott until their rooms have been thoroughly cleaned and re-carpeted, a process which is supposed to be complete by Saturday morning. Until then, the College is also funding transportation for the students to and from the hotel by Brunswick Taxi.
Bowdoin plans also plans to reimburse the students for much of the damage incurred.
"The College is working with its insurance agents to learn more about the process of covering their items," said Pacelli.
Residential Life also arranged for a laundry service to clean any soiled bedding, rugs, and clothing that was affected in the flooding. The College is also making a record of any electronic and personal items that have been damaged, as well as working with IT to provide temporary replacement computers to any students who are unable to salvage their own.
"Everything of mine from the common room is pretty much damaged," said Valka, who says one of his biggest frustrations is the loss of his hard drive, on which he had saved the beginning of an important term paper.
"A lot of teachers have been really understanding," he said. "But this is something I really don't want to have to deal with right now."