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Frigid air causes pipes to burst, flood Keough

Kate Antonacci | Wednesday, February 7, 2007

With South Bend temperatures dipping well below zero degrees this week, all it took was a slightly-cracked window or an unsecured door for heating pipes to burst twice in Keough Hall – once early Sunday morning and again Monday morning – causing serious flooding in the men’s dormitory.

“The freezing isn’t the problem – it’s when it starts to melt that the water starts flowing,” said Scott Kachmarik, associate director in the office of residence life and housing.

The most serious flood involved a discharge of Keough’s fire sprinkler system in the front entryway just after 7 a.m. on Monday, said rector Mark DeMott.

Notre Dame Security/Police (NDSP) arrived quickly on the scene to help “keep damage to a minimum,” DeMott said.

Building Services in normally the first on scene to begin water clean up and to “assist in any further damage by moving items and belongings and working to contain the spread and flow of the water,” Kachmarik said.

“They also will immediately check the floors below and work to minimize the damage of water that might be running down the walls and through the ceiling,” he said.

A plumber is also called to shut off water supply to the affected area and to replace the damaged pipe or heating coil, Kachmarik said.

Keough’s housekeeping staff was also on hand to clean up the mess caused by the flooding.

“The men of Keough Hall have been exceptionally patient and very helpful with the clean-up process,” DeMott said. “Everything should be back to normal by the end of the week at the latest.”

While Keough is the only dormitory to report flooding and burst pipes, O’Neill Hall experienced minor problems due to the cold weather.

“We just had, on Sunday afternoon, two radiator leaks,” rector Edward Mack said. “The first one was a little more major, but once the plumber got here and showed me how to turn the water off we were able to handle the second leak pretty easily.”

The radiators, located on the first and third floors, were a direct result of open windows.

“We had to manually turn off the radiators and remove belongings from the room,” Assistant Rector Patrick Roach said.

Mack and Roach sent out e-mails, hung up flyers and made an announcement at Mass to avoid similar problems in the future.

“This is not the first time things like this have happened,” Roach said. “We know it happens when it is this cold, so we want people to be smart about leaving their windows open,” Roach said.

Kachmarik’s office has also heard of problems in “one other hall, which hasn’t been confirmed.”

DeMott said that students need to remember to keep windows closed during cold weather, a point that was echoed in an e-mail sent to all on-campus residents Monday by the Office of Residence Life and Housing.

“Because of the extremely cold temperatures and wind chills, the Department of Facilities Operations has requested assistance to insure that residence hall windows are shut tightly and secured,” the e-mail said. “Even the smallest opening allows for a draft to enter the room and cause pipes to freeze and break.”

Students unable to regulate the heat in their dorm rooms were encouraged in the e-mail to notify a member of residence hall staff so “a work order can be submitted for diagnosis and repair.”

The time frame for fixing the burst pipe depends on the extent of the damage, the thawing of the pipe and the availability of access to the broken pipe, Kachmarik said.

As for the flooding, cleaning up the water happens pretty quickly, though drying out affected objects may take a few days, Kachmarik said.

“Generally, clothing, books and furniture can either be laundered or simply left to air-dry,” he said. “Electronic components should not be turned on until they have completely dried out internally.”

To protect items that may be permanently damaged, Kachmarik stressed the importance of having adequate insurance coverage on belongings through “your family’s’ homeowners insurance or some other type of ‘renter’s insurance’ plan.”

Kachmarik noted one company – Haylor, Freyer & Coon, Inc. – that offers students as much as $6,000 coverage for under $100 per year.