Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Sam Thangiah’s last name.
The water has receded and classes are back to normal in the Advanced Technology and Science Hall (ATS) at Slippery Rock University after the sprinkler system malfunctioned on Jan. 22.
The issue was discovered that day when members of the Slippery Rock Volunteer Fire Department responded to a fire alarm activation. When the firefighters arrived, there was no fire but water pouring down from the third floor and into classrooms and offices.
More than 30 learning and faculty spaces were affected, including the stairwells, according to Scott Albert, SRU’s assistant vice president of facilities, planning and environmental safety.
Due to the necessary cleanup, some classes in the building were moved online for a few days. Most of the classes had returned to their normal schedules by Jan. 25, Albert said.
The extent of the damages and the cost of repairs and replacing equipment is still unknown.
Some of the needed repairs can be seen just by walking the halls. Numerous ceiling tiles are missing and roughly two inches of drywall has been removed from where the water rose.
For the water cleanup and drying of the building, SRU contracted Firewater Response. Albert expects the cost of their services alone to exceed $40,000. Along with outside contractors, nearly 20 facility staff have been involved with the cleanup and disinfecting, along with repairs, he said.
Some of those repairs, like the replacement of data and phone ports will be done in the summer. According to Albert, once those have been damaged by water they typically fail soon after.
Department chairs are also compiling lists of office and lab equipment that need replaced. While ordering the items may be easy for the university to do, Albert said, he expects global supply shortages to slow that progress.
One of the hardest hit areas of the ATS was the computer science department.
Like the hallways, Michael Stapleton’s office saw water flow from above into his second-floor office, damaging many ceiling tiles.
“It was a lot of water,” Stapleton said.
Computer Science Chair Sam Thangiah said the process of going through offices and classrooms to check what would still turn on was a minimal inconvenience but allowed them to identify damaged equipment easily. Unfortunately, some of damaged items included computers with specialized software and humanoid robots.
In all, six classes from the department had to temporarily move online but Thangiah said the everyone came together to get things back on track quickly.
“Between maintenance, IT and scheduling, [they] did an amazing job,” Thangiah said.
SRU contracts with Johnson Controls Fire Protection to maintain the alarm and sprinkler system, Albert said. Those systems are designed to last up to 40 years, but typically begin to have issues after 20 years.
The system inside ATS was 17-years-old, Albert said.
According to Paul Novak, executive director of planning, the sprinkler systems are inspected every year. The system in ATS was inspected in the beginning of January but the final report has not been completed yet.