At 12:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4, Ralph Thayer, Swarthmore College’s Director of Maintenance, sent the campus community an email informing them of a water main break by the northwest end of Parrish Hall. To bring in the necessary equipment to fix the pipes, the Maintenance Department redirected students and traffic going through the area.
“The campus shuttle will be picking up and dropping off at the Rose Garden circle, not the West circle. Pedestrians will be routed off the path at the West end of Parrish to use the driveway instead,” Thayer said in his email.
The repair process encountered some unexpected hurdles. At 12:31 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 5, Thayer sent another email informing the community that the water main burst was not as easy to control as they initially thought.
“What seemed like a quick fix has turned into a bit of an ordeal. The break in the line has been located but is in a particularly difficult spot under a duct bank and near other utilities. What would have been quick and easy with machines has turned into a hand digging effort,” he said.
Consequently, the Maintenance Department turned off the water line that feeds Clothier, Sproul, Wharton, and Dana/Hallowell. Bathrooms in these buildings, as well as the Essie Mae’s Snack Bar kitchen, lost access to running water. Essie’s, however, still offered pre-packaged goods.
Though Thayer is not sure what the specific cause of the water break is, he attributed the incident to the decrepit state of the water line.
“It’s tough to determine a root cause but the fundamental problem is age and material. The water line that broke is cast iron which was the pipe of choice … 100 years ago. It is strong but not flexible. If it is stressed by ground movement or settling, it can snap which is what happened with this line. The break is in a particularly difficult spot beneath a duct bank and adjacent to other utilities so it has become a hand digging effort, which as you can imagine is slow and muddy,” Thayer wrote in an email to the Phoenix.
At 3:36 p.m. on Tuesday, Thayer announced that the Maintenance Department successfully fixed the water line. Though water in buildings may still be murky, Thayer said that that is merely sediment from the pipes in the water and can be cleaned by turning on the tap until the water is clear. An hour after Thayer’s email was sent, Anthony Coschignano, Assistant Vice President for Auxiliary Services, informed the school community that Essie’s would resume normal operations at 5:00 p.m.