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Officials defend staff effort

John-Paul Witt | Thursday, February 22, 2007

Already this semester, the University has experienced flooding in dorms, flooding in the library and a gas leak that forced seven evacuations – not all of which were caused by the severe cold or were even preventable, University Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves said Wednesday.

Affleck-Graves, who is responsible for the Department of Facilities Operations, credited the department with adequately preparing the campus for the winter season. He said “none of the problems on campus” were caused by failures in prevention.

Vice President for Business Operations James Lyphout also said preventative maintenance was not the issue.

“[I am] not aware of any ways to improve [the University’s] winter weather preparations,” he said.

In terms of preventative maintenance, the pipes and irrigation systems are flushed before winter, and rooms are checked during break to ensure all windows are secured.

Lyphout said pipes burst in Keough Hall on Feb. 4 and 5 because residence hall windows were left open.

“[This allowed] cold air to blow over heating coils that froze and broke, and allowed a piece of pipe and a sprinkler system to freeze,” Lyphout said.

Affleck-Graves said better “education” of students is needed to prevent such incidents, because students can best ensure that proper precautions against the cold are taken.

“We almost always have one or two pipes burst a year,” Affleck-Graves said. “The problem [with pipes] is that someone will open a window and then leave for a weekend, then the room gets below freezing. Adequate education is necessary for the students – students leave windows open.”

An open window, however, did not cause a pipe to burst in the Hesburgh Library, Affleck-Graves said.

“We’re still trying to understand the cause of the pipe bursting in the library,” he said. “We couldn’t have foreseen that happening.”

Affleck-Graves said Notre Dame requires almost constant upkeep and it is impossible to prevent every maintenance issue that arises.

“We’re not a [corporate] type place, where people come in eight hours a day – we’re running a little village of ten thousand people living here twenty-four, seven,” Affleck-Graves said.

Affleck-Graves was more concerned about the Feb. 12 gas leak that occurred while work was done on a broken water main.

“Things like pipes bursting happen – we can handle it. It’s not a problem in the normal operations of the University,” he said. “I worry most about the gas leak – about people getting hurt.”

University spokesman Don Wycliff has said the gas leak posed no danger to students, and Affleck-Graves and Lyphout both affirmed that it was the result of construction – not something that could have been prevented.

“The gas leak was the result of excavations to repair a buried water main,” Lyphout said. “The gas pipe was accidentally hit with the backhoe.”

Ultimately, Affleck-Graves said he is satisfied with the amount done to maintain Notre Dame’s campus.

“We do seventy to one-hundred million dollars of construction a year here, and we do more work on preventative maintenance than most other schools,” he said.