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Polar vortex causes leaks, displacing more than 20 students

01/24/2014
Abbey Zelko
News Editor

Leaks that resulted from broken pipes during the polar vortex in early January forced more than 20 students in on-and off-campus housing to move to another residence prior to the start of school.

Students living in nine Philadelphia Square apartments, located at 1055 Philadelphia St., were forced to move to other Philadelphia Square apartments after a leak was discovered around 2 a.m. Jan. 8.

Most of the students living in the building, which contains 44 apartments, were not home at the time.

But Nicole Sieg (junior, psychology) and about five others were there, accord­ing to Sieg.

Sieg had just returned from Portland, Ore., that night and was going to bed early because she had to work the following morning. She had only been in her apartment for three hours when water started coming out of the walls.

“You just heard a rush of water coming and water started coming from the ceiling, walls and the outlets and light switches and started forming pud­dles on the floor,” Sieg said in a phone interview Monday. “And it was leaking into my closet and bathroom. Some people’s rooms got a foot of water in them.”

The situation was progressively getting worse, Sieg said, and no one came to the scene until around 3 a.m. It took a while to get the water shut off, she said.

“I was surprised that no fire com­pany or police showed up,” Sieg said. “I was panicking, calling the owner and manager in the office saying, ‘Get here because water is coming out of the walls.’”

Darlene Palmer, Philadelphia Square property manager, said she got a call between 2:04 a.m. and 2:08 a.m. and left the house immediately in her night­gown.

“We worked diligently and as best as we could to get the problem addressed immediately,” Palmer said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Palmer said she gathered students and checked those who needed a place to stay into a hotel at 3:30 a.m. However, Sieg said she wasn’t moved until 5 a.m.

“It’s unfortunate to be in a hotel room because I don’t have any of my stuff,” she said. “We were all living out of our suitcases. We had to buy toothbrushes and shower stuff.”

The damage in Sieg’s room wasn’t as bad as it was for some other tenants. Because she was there when it happened, she was able to move her belongings to higher surfaces, but her rugs, some clothes and phone charger were dam­aged as well as some posters on her wall, she said.

Those who were not at their apart­ment at the time of the leak received an email two days later alerting them of the incident, Sieg said.

After a week and a half of living in a hotel, Sieg was able to move back into her room, but she only has half of her furniture. The floor panels are also com­ing up in some areas, and there are some water stains in the apartment, according to Sieg.

“In the hallways, the tiles are like weak,” she said. “You can feel them going in, kind of coming up in the middle. The walls, you can see where the water was leaking down on the wallpaper and stuff. They had to come in and clean everything because it was so smelly and dirty.”

However, Palmer said there is no structural damage to the building and that the apartments that students are currently living in have been tested and given approval.

“We will have someone on site to check in the event that an emergency arises,” Palmer said. “Any student has contact through me 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Students living in nine other apart­ments were not permitted to return to their apartments due to damages and had to move to other Philadelphia Square locations.

“We found room within our different complexes,” Palmer said. “We managed to take care of all of our tenants.”

Palmer said Philadelphia Square hired a professional moving company to pack up the belongings of students who weren’t there on campus and move them, with their approval, to their new location.

Palmer did not comment on the cost of the damages.

The Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus also experi­enced problems with pipes breaking in five residence halls between Jan. 8 and 11.

The worst leak happened in Putt Hall, where 14 students had to be moved to different buildings, accord­ing to Michael Lemasters, the executive director of housing, residential living and dining and the associate dean of campus living and learning.

A sprinkler line in the attic broke and caused damage from the fourth floor to the lower level where the nursing simulation lab is, according to Doug Miller, director of facilities operations. Between 12 and 15 custodial staff mem­bers worked to repair the sprinkler line, get wet insulation out of the attic and drain the water.

The insurance company had a restoration crew specializing in water damage working throughout this past weekend to get things straightened up in Putt, Miller said. Some ceilings needed to be replaced and walls needed to be painted.

Some of the students’ personal property was damaged, Lemasters said, including one student’s class project that couldn’t be fixed. Students’ clothes were washed for them or students were given money on their I-Cards to wash any clothes that got wet from the leak.

Everyone affected was contacted over break, and students were allowed to come back early to check on their belongings or move to another building.

Leaks also occurred in Delaney, Ruddock, Wallwork and Elkin halls, but all of these buildings were cleaned up within a day, according to Miller.

The Wallwork leak occurred because a couple students vacated the building a few days prior and left the window open, causing the pipes to freeze and burst, Lemasters said.

Ruddock’s leak happened in the attic over the laundry room, he said, and leaked onto the second floor and into the main lobby in the entryway between the two sets of doors.

“The damage was pretty minimal in Ruddock and in Wallwork,” Miller said. “Pretty much the folks were on the scene very quickly and got water that may have escaped sucked up pretty quickly.”

There was damage to a student room in Wallwork, but not to a student’s prop­erty, Miller said.

In Elkin, the leak didn’t really affect student rooms, but the main lounge and a graduate residence director’s apart­ment were flooded. The main problem, Lemasters said, was that the leak shorted the elevator, and it wouldn’t be repaired by move-in weekend.

“Every student in Elkin was sent an email about the elevators so students could make decisions about what they brought back with them,” Lemasters said.

Miller said that nothing could have been done to prevent the leaks.

“We had really taken all the steps we learned from previous breaks in the residence halls, making sure the heat was on in the stairwells, asking folks to make sure windows are closed, when they enter a building that the door closes behind them,” Miller said. “We went in all the attics to check sprinkler systems. It was the extreme cold temperatures we got here, something we’re not used to.”

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