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Water main break disrupts SMC Campus

Anneliese Woolford | Monday, September 1, 2003

Just when Saint Mary’s faculty, staff and students thought nothing more extreme than Tuesday’s severe weather could disrupt the first week of classes, disaster struck the campus once again.

The pipe that carries water to three Saint Mary’s facilities burst Friday morning, leaving much of the campus without water and air conditioning.

The cause of the water main break was a construction mishap at the location of the new student center.

“The demolition contractor demolishing the old dining hall hooked a 10-inch water main with his Caterpillar backhoe and tore a hole in it,” said John DeLee, director of facilities. “That’s one of the primary water mains on campus, so we had to shut that down, which shut off water to McCandless, Angela and the library. Because it was such a big leak, the whole campus had a pressure reduction.”

DeLee said the main, which he estimated to have contained over 150,000 gallons of water, flooded, but was contained in the excavation of the old dining hall.

The campus-wide pressure reduction caused toilets in many buildings to run continuously. Maintenance employees were forced to manually reset each one.

“The maintenance guy came to my door and did something to the toilet,” said senior Jani Burns. “He seemed kind of frantic which made me more nervous.”

The water main break caused the shutdown of several campus database systems. The disconnected databases did not directly affect students and faculty.

“Our air conditioner is a water-based system, so when the water went off, our air conditioning and cooling stopped working,” said Keith Fowlkes, director of Information Technology. “In order to keep our systems from overheating and getting damaged, we brought down some of our central database systems and left core switches for campus networks and our electronic mail server.”

The office of Information Technology sent an e-mail message to students, faculty and staff alerting them of the situation.

“It was such a fast and furious process; we didn’t have a lot of lead-time,” Fowlkes said.

Fowlkes said he plans to discuss with the College’s maintenance department the possibility of a back-up air conditioning system.

Access to the Internet, shared diamond network and telecommunications was maintained, and all technology systems were restored at 1:15 p.m. Campus water and air conditioning was restored at 4 p.m.

“The contractors knew where the line was,” DeLee said. “All we can do is caution them not to get too close to the lines and we have to depend on them to do their work properly.”