On the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 1, water was discovered seeping through various sections of the sidewalk just outside of Olt Student Center. After providing water to the Haven and MP for more than 50 years, a water main in the Valley had burst.
According to Joe Royer, executive director of facilities and property management, AU was quick to action.
“Our Physical Plant employees did some preliminary work to remove the appropriate sections of sidewalk,” he said. “Due to the depth of the water main and the need for a backhoe, we hired an outside firm to excavate the hole down to the necessary depth. They arrived early in the morning the day after it happened. The work area caused students to change their normal path of travel during that time frame.”
Royer explained that after digging the hole, more outside help was required to fix the issue.
“Once excavated, a local plumbing firm arrived to make the repair,” he said. “This water line supplies water to the Student Center. That building was without its primary source of water for approximately 24 hours. We were able, during this time, to provide the Student Center with limited water from Byrum Hall.”
According to Royer, upon locating the area of the line that required repair, workers realized that the issue originated from a previous repair.
“When the water main was exposed at the point of the leak, it was discovered that, apparently, there had at one time been a joint there where another line had branched off from the main line,” he said. “It appeared that ‘branch’ had purposely been removed at some point and a ‘patch’ made. That ‘patch’ is where the leak developed.”
Royer explained that another factor likely contributed to the leak.
“This is a water main that has been in the ground for more than 50 years,” he said. “It is rare, but not unusual for a line of that age to develop a leak. Any number of factors, such as a weak spot in the piping, a joint which loosens or the ground shifting, can contribute to make such an event happen. As I said, these events are rare. There is not a lot that can be done to prevent such an occurrence.”
Although the water main has been fixed, Royer explained that there is still work to be done.
“There may be some questions about why the sidewalk section has not yet been replaced,” he said. “Although the excavated hole has been filled back in, we have to wait for a period of time for the soil in the hole to ‘settle’ before we pour new sidewalk. If we pour too soon and the ground continues to settle, the new sidewalk section will crack.”
Royer explained that the unfinished sidewalk was not the only side effect of the water main burst.
“Some Food Services operations had to be modified during this 24-hour period,” he said. “AU Food Services did a fine job of being flexible and finding ways to maintain service to students.”
Blake Milakis, director of dining services, explained the extent of the effect the burst had on Food Services.
“With any water main burst, obviously, it eliminates the water in the building,” he said. “It did affect the Student Center, and we did not have running water in our direct kitchens. That was the main result of this happening.”
Due to the severity of the issue, Food Services was careful to put students’ safety first.
“In Food Services, we took the necessary precautions just to be sure we were still safely feeding our students and guests,” he said. “When something like this happens, normal protocol is that we notify the local health department and let them know that there was a water main break, then they advise us on the direction we are able to take depending on the severity of the problem.”
Robby Woolums, junior mechanical engineering major, explained that Food Services’ limited operation was frustrating for students with tight schedules.
“It was certainly annoying and it definitely hindered my ability to get a meal at the right time,” he said. “Like most students, I only have certain lunch hours available, so having no options available at certain times was pretty terrible.”
Despite the inconvenience, Woolums explained that he was happy with how quickly AU fixed the issue.
“I was expecting it to go on for a week or two, so the fact that they handled it within a week was nice,” he said. “Although, having the sidewalk now being made out of gravel is interesting.”