Walsh Hall repairs will take until 2016 after January pipe burst

By Chris Hoch
Sun Star Reporter

Repairs to Walsh Hall are expected to take at least until 2016, partially due to the expense of the project, the need to turn off heat to do repairs, which is more convenient to do in summer months, and UAF awaiting to see what its insurance company will cover, according to Scott Bell, associate vice chancellor for facilities services.

The utilidoors, tunnels containing piping for heating and water between buildings, beneath Walsh Hall sustained damage after the pipes burst, on January 26 at 4:30 a.m., releasing steam and asbestos. The 16 residents were relocated and all heat and water to facilities north and east of MBS were cut, affecting a total of 366 residents.

Buildings that lost heat on that 40 below day were the Whitaker Building, the MacLean and Bunnell houses, Hess Village, and Hardwood, Stuart and Walsh Halls. Immediate temporary repairs cost about $30,000, according to Bell. “We are waiting for the insurance companies to complete their review of the damage and let us know what they will pay for,” Bell said.

“An expansion joint that was in the steam line that accommodates growth and shrinking with variation in pipe temperature got stressed beyond its limits and broke,” Bell said. The utilidoor system in the area is a five feet wide and six feet tall tunnel. The damage to the steam pipe released hot steam into the tunnel, raising the temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, which damaged the water line. The temperature is normally between 60-110 degrees Fahrenheit.

The water broke up and damaged some of the asbestos insulation the utilidoors were installed with many years ago, which carried it throughout the utilidoor as the water spread between the Rasmuson Library and Hardwood Hall, approximately 1,000 feet. Because of the slope in the utilidoor, water depth ranged from zero to 12 feet.

Walsh Hall’s 10 apartments received damage not only from the steam but also had its fire sprinklers go off, which resulted in even more water damage to the floors, ceilings, walls, furniture, windows, cabinets, and doors.

Residents in the Student Apartment Complex were consolidated, which, as their contract stipulates, involves placing those who have only paid for a double-shared room with roommates. Consolidation requires a resident move, which the Residence Life hired movers also assisted with.

“They moved those of us who had less than four roommates into other apartments that had less than four roommates,” Brittany Blood, UAF engineering student, said. Blood says she was sent an e-mail on Thursday and was required to be moved by Tuesday, a challenge because of school. “I went up there and saw basically just like a pile of trash right outside the door of my old apartment … I saw things that were mine, like my blanket that they missed when they were moving me,” Blood said. Blood’s roommate moved into MBS instead of being consolidated, opting to avoid the trouble of meeting and making friends with new roommates at a time when school is becoming especially time consuming.

Residence Life was less frustrated. “The way our staff and our residents reacted to this was exemplar,” Bradley Bishop, first year experience coordinator for Residence Life, said. “The day it happened we were there until eight o’clock at night, nine o’clock at night helping the residents making sure they had a space.”

Residence Life allocated space in MBS, Cutler and in Hess Village for relocation. “Everyone was kind of unprepared,” Chris Ponce, former Walsh Hall resident, said. “I heard ticking in the floor because the pipes were under me,” Ponce said, who called facilities services around 4 a.m. the day of the burst. Ponce saw steam outside of the window, which prompted him to check the laundry room.

“I opened the door and saw a whole bunch of steam,” he said. Ponce and his girlfriend were moved into Bartlett for eight days, before being relocated into family housing in Harwood Hall. Ponce was compensated $200 in Munch Money, which was to cover the expenses incurred by not being able to live in his former residence.

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