Pipe Leak Prompts Costly Maintenance and Cold Showers
Last month’s pipe maintenance which temporarily denied students hot water was the most recent incident of a costly, recurring problem on campus.
The total cost of the maintenance was $13,500, according to the Facilities Management Vice President John Giarrusso.
A pinhole leak sprung in a section of high-temperature hot water main in the tunnels near the Performing Arts Center, which heating and cooling crew noticed at the end of August.
“It seems like every other year we catch one, which is not a bad track record given the amount of pipe we’ve got on campus,” said Giarrusso.
Giarrusso estimated that the hi-temp pipe had leaked less than 20 gallons of water before being fixed by two private firms which the university contracted. The $13,500 figure is a typical price for these kinds of repairs.
The university hired TJ Bell Environmental to remove asbestos insulation from around the pipe segment.
Because most of the university’s infrastructure pipes have not been replaced since the uptown campus was built from 1964-71, many of them are insulated with asbestos, which is now illegal to use in construction. Existing structures with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are not required by law to replace their installations, so the university is in compliance with the law.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber which is known for its high strength and heat resistance. If particles or fibers reach the lungs, it can cause serious health problems such as lung cancer.
However, asbestos-containing materials such as the university’s pipe insulation only present a danger if their fibers become airborne. To ensure safety, the university contracted TJ Bell to perform asbestos abatement, which involves controlling the release of particles for removal of the insulation. The tunnels are all safe to walk through at this time.
This time, the leak was in the welding that connected pipe segments, according to Giarrusso. He speculated that the break was due to the age and corrosion on the pipe and weld material.
“That could happen anywhere,” said Giarrusso. “So what we do is we monitor pressures all the time, and…. as we go through the tunnels we look at our piping systems as well.”
Giarrusso said that the University had no long-term plans to update the pipes, as they do not view it as a pervasive issue.
Meanwhile, some students were displeased with the lack of hot water which the repair caused.
“A shower with cold water, and washing my face with cold water? That is the worst,” said Crystal Oyefeso, a freshman on Indian Quad. “I’m confused; I’m paying tuition for cold water?”
Other students, like Julia Estrada, don’t take hot showers and thus were less inconvenienced by the shutoff.
“Personally, I found it kind of funny, and more comfortable,” said Estrada, a freshman on State. Her suitemates usually take hot showers which fill her dorm with steam, but over the break they were forced to take cold or room-temperature showers.
Estrada also said that her dining hall gave them plastic silverware and paper plates to eat from; “That was a little disheartening because it’s bad for the environment, but, it’s not the best thing to be washing tons of dishes with clean water, either.”
TJ Bell did not immediately return the ASP’s calls for comment.