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Construction cause of SMC gas leak

Liz Harter and Mandi Stirone | Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Construction workers installing storm sewers on the south side of Le Mans Hall, east of the Moreau Center for the Arts, struck a low-pressure gas line, allowing a small amount of gas to seep from the ground onto Saint Mary’s campus at approximately 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Timm Ringer, the College’s maintenance working supervisor, said there is no danger to students, but said he did not know how long it would take to turn the gas off.

“We brought in the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), we’re waiting from the word from them to be able to shut this down to see what it’s going to affect on the buildings,” Ringer said.

Bill Hambling, director of the facilities department, said in a statement to The Observer that NIPSCO was on campus within 10 minutes of the gas leak.

“NIPSCO quickly capped the line and determined there was no need for an evacuation of either building,” Hambling said in the statement, released by Gwen O’ Brien, director of media relations for Saint Mary’s.

Ringer said none of the buildings on campus should be negatively affected by the leak because the dorms use steam heat.

“There’s no gas whatsoever in LeMans [Hall], except for the gas dryers,” Ringer said. “[In the student center, the] dining hall kitchen equipment will be affected, we’re aware of that.”

Many students first noticed the gas leak as they walked from dinner to their dorms.

“I first smelt it around 7 p.m. before signs went up on the doors,” junior Krista Durski said. “It smells like dead fish, but I live near the river and it always smells like that when it rains so I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t even know about the leak until the signs were posted.”

Ringer also said Opus Hall, the senior on-campus apartments, may be affected, though he is not sure in what way.

He said maintenance men are watching Moreau Hall and O’Laughlin Auditorium because of the proximity to the gas leak.

“We have secured the air handler so that the gases can’t get in [to that building],” Ringer said.

Ringer said when NIPSCO says it is safe, maintenance men will turn off the gas main to repair the break. Maintenance and security will take extra precautions before doing so.

“Before we turn the gas [back] on we’ll do walk-throughs of all the buildings and make sure that each and every device is working,” Ringer said.

Hambling said in the statement that the pilot light for the dryers in LeMans and the kiln in Morea, both directly affected by the leak, will be turned back on this morning.

“At no time were residents of LeMans in any danger,” he said in the statement.

Despite reassurances saying the air was not dangerous, signs were posted on the entrances to all of the residence halls asking students to refrain from smoking due to the gas leak. The handmade signs made no explanation of where the gas leak occurred or what caused it.