Water damage a recurring problem at U

Protocols developed by Facilities Management couldn’t prevent costly water damage.

The Jan. 30 flooding of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences building cost the University of Minnesota more than $1 million in damage. An administrative officer called the incident âÄúunpreventable,âÄù despite the fact that a University task force established a set of protocols meant to prevent and contain water damage episodes two years ago. The Water Event Task Force was a joint effort between Facilities Management and University Health and Safety, and in 2007 released a document explaining uniform response and prevention techniques for cold weather pipe bursts, heavy rainfall, roof failures and cooling system malfunctions. The task force was established after the University suffered more than 20 water damage episodes over a 10-year period. The EECS flood was the second in two months, and one of eight incidents requiring repair costs more than $200,000. Three incidents cost more than $1 million, according to the task forceâÄôs report.

The use of cheap materials were found to be the cause of several incidents, including an October 2004 pipe break in the EECS building that resulted in $205,874 in damage. The document outlined a few recommendations to reduce risk of loss for âÄúincompatibleâÄù and âÄúpoor qualityâÄù materials, including routine inspections and replacing faulting equipment when detected. The cost of the EECS flood topped $1 million because it took at least three hours before Facilities Management was alerted to the leak. Brad Hoff, chief administrative officer for Facilities Management, said the EECS flooding was responded to as swiftly as possible, but could not be avoided. According to Hoff, the protocol for preventing cooling bursts outlined in the task forceâÄôs report could not be followed because the affected pipe could not be viewed by the naked eye during routine inspections. The task force report did not specify ways to deal with pipes hidden from plain view. Hoff likened the episode to the water system in a personal washing machine. âÄúWhen you look at a washing machine, you can see water circulating,âÄù Hoff said. âÄúHowever, there are pipes and systems you cannot access and check up on.âÄù The EECS building flooded in 2004, 2005 and 2006 as the result of cooling pipe malfunctions as well. Cooling pipes can burst because of blockage, changes to valves, or when a pipe cannot handle the volume of water drained from a cooling tower or chilled water system. Hoff said the most recent EECS flood was the result of wear on an internal cooling pipe caused by vibrations and water pressure. Facilities Management is reviewing methods to encourage faster response times, Hoff said, including installing water detection systems on building floors. He estimates the cost of the detection system to be around $50,000, but said it would pay itself off in the long run. Delayed response has resulted in several other costly incidents. In December 2005, inadequate draining procedures led to two weeks of unmonitored mold growth in the West Bank Office Building, costing the University more than $200,000 to repair. The incident also caused âÄúhealth problems,âÄù which were unspecified in the report. While the University has had recurring water related problems, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has not experienced any major issues recently, the schoolâÄôs Physical Plant Associate Director Faramarz Vakili said. In fact, Vakili said the amount of water-related incidents on the Madison campus over the last few years has decreased. Madison does not deal with many cooling pipe issues during winter because the majority of cooling coils in campus buildings are drained. The University of Minnesota drains some of its cooling coils, but many buildings require cooling systems to stabilize temperatures in certain laboratories and other rooms requiring temperature controls, Facilities Management East Bank Team Manager Kevin Taylor said. The Madison Physical Plant department does not follow a set of strict protocols, but instead evaluates situations that occur and decide informally how to deal with them in the future. âÄúWe try to ask, âÄòcould this have been prevented, what caused it, and is this a repeat problemâÄô?âÄù Vikili said. âÄúIf itâÄôs a repeat problem, we need to see what we can do to it. If it could not have been prevented, thatâÄôs life.âÄù The Twin Cities campus is not the only University of Minnesota campus to suffer from water damage issues. Crookston, Morris and Duluth have all fallen victim to costs induced by water damage incidents as well.