Leaking pipe causes issues in fieldhouse and gyms

Leakage in both the fieldhouse and gyms creates problems for athletes

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Extreme cold weather in early February caused an underground pipe to leak, causing flooding in the fieldhouse and temporarily blocking Winnetka Road.

As a result, several athletic teams and the sports medicine staff were unable to use parts of the fieldhouse during the day due to 2 to 3 inches of water on the ground, though some parts of the fieldhouse were still in use.

“We could practice on the actual track but we couldn’t lift, which is what we wanted to do that day,” said junior Josh Flinton, who is a sprinter for the track team.

While the weight room wasn’t in use due to the flood, other parts of the fieldhouse were cleaned relatively quickly and reopened towards the end of the school day. Head athletic trainer Dale Grooms lauded the Physical Plant Services for their role in removing the water from the training room.

“We didn’t have to move out. Maintenance did a phenomenal job,” said Grooms. “They turned off the water and started sucking up all the water, so we were functioning normally by after school time.”

The unusual cold was the main contributor to the pipe failure, according to Winnetka Facilities Manager Steve Linke. The Chicago area experienced record-breaking low temperatures in early February, which led to the failure of an RBC (rotating biological contactor) valve that treats wastewater and controls water flow.

According to WGN, pipes thawing after extreme cold “can inflict greater damage than the initial freeze, with bursts [occurring] when ice inside starts to melt and water rushes through the pipe, or when water in the pipe is pushed to a closed faucet by expanding ice.”

“The cause of our valve failing was because the water main broke [due to] the cold weather,” said Linke. “We’ve had our share of pipes break, but we’ve not had an RBC valve let go like this.”

Another potential cause for the leaking could be the age of the fieldhouse. The original Gates Gymnasium was built in the 1920s and old water mains are susceptible to breaking in the cold, said Linke.

Despite the water leakage caused by this faulty valve, it was considered a minor flood. Due to rearrangement of the gym area’s infrastructure in 2014, the potential for major flooding decreased significantly, according to Linke.

“We made some changes to that building when we installed the elevator [in 2014]. One of the changes we made was to get rid of a lower level door on the south side, and just by doing that we stopped the catastrophic flooding,” said Linke.

Regarding the amount of floods that happen in the fieldhouse, Linke said “Now I would say [floods] occur almost never. In 15 years we’ve had three major floods down there, not counting the minor one the other day, but none of those have happened since we [installed the elevator] so I would say that there is no [major flooding] anymore.”

To clean up the water, the PPS staff used vacuums to remove the water before sanitizing everything, including the rubber floor and the walls. They also used fans to circulate the air, which is done for minor floods, but Linke said “in a catastrophic instance we would get big commercial dehumidifiers.”

Linke also added that only fresh water leaked into the fieldhouse, rather than sewage. He also said that major floods only occur with extreme storms– the kind every 100 years.

Aside from cleaning up floods, PPS takes other measures to ensure the fieldhouse is able to function smoothly.

“We look at the plumbing systems,” said Linke. “Make repairs if we see leaks starting so that they don’t turn into broken pipes. We clean the fieldhouse, disinfect the field house. Do maintenance on the lights inside, stuff like that.”

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