Residents Evacuate Mertz Hall After Flooding

Mertz Hall, a residence hall in the College Avenue Cluster, flooded on Nov. 12, causing approximately 30 residents living on the north side to relocate. 

According to Mertz residents Sara Yun ʼ23 and Johanna Lee ʼ23, this was not the first time Mertz has flooded this semester. Mertz residents called Public Safety and maintenance on Sept. 30 to report a flooding bathroom. In an email to The Phoenix, Director of Maintenance James Adams wrote that a blockage in the 4-inch diameter underground pipe that carries wastewater from Mertz to the sanitary sewer system caused floods in restroom facilities on the north side of the building. The maintenance team arrived the morning after the flood and shut down the bathrooms on the north side of the building, cleared out the pipes, and reopened the bathrooms. 

There was another flood in the same area, however, a couple of weeks later. Each time there was a flood, the EVS and Maintenance departments cleaned up and sanitized the affected areas. 

The most damaging flood that caused students to move out began on Thursday, November 12. 

“The most recent flood was the worst of them all … the boys and girls bathrooms were connected, [in earlier floods, the water would] start in the girls’ bathroom and then go into the boys’, and then it would go into the carpets, but this time [the water] went throughout the hallways,” Yun recalled. 

At approximately 5 p.m. Thursday, students noticed the first signs of flooding — water pooling on the floor. The RCC in the building, Ben Shalk, called PubSafe, but no one came to fix the issue. According to Yun, by 7 p.m., the bathrooms were unusable; both the toilets and showers were flooded. At approximately 9 p.m., dorm room carpets on multiple floors on the north side were soaked with water.

“We had to knock on people’s doors and [tell them that] there’s water coming, you should probably get ready to stop the water,” said Yun.

At approximately 1 a.m. on Friday, EVS technicians came to vacuum up the water. 

Additionally, Swarthmore’s maintenance department called in a specialty contractor who inserted a camera down the blocked pipe to locate the source of the blockage. 

“[The contractor] discovered that the pipe partially collapsed about 100 feet down the pipe in a section that is located underneath the concrete floor in the Mertz Hall lounge area. Plans were made to repair the pipe after students left for winter break,” said Adams. 

To successfully fix the pipes, the maintenance crew would have to dig about 6 feet down into the concrete floor. Due to potential inconveniences for students who remained in the dorm [before Thanksgiving break], the maintenance team initially pushed the repair to winter break. The maintenance department hoped that their proactive efforts to keep the drain clear and students could remain in Mertz until the scheduled move-out day. Unfortunately, the pipe blockage problem worsened to the point where the residents could no longer utilize the impacted restrooms on the building’s north side. In alignment with the college’s COVID-19 protocol to maintain a suitable bathroom fixture to student ratio of 3.5 people per toilet, OSE and the maintenance department decided to relocate residents temporarily. 

At 5 p.m Friday, Ben Shalk informed residents of Mertz Hall that they had to relocate.

“I thought it was a joke. I was just laughing. I was like there is no way … we have one week [left on campus],”  Lee said. 

Shalk told students to leave their things in Mertz and reassigned them to housing across campus. Residents were still allowed access to the dorms in order to move their stuff during move-out.

“[Lee and Yun] are lucky in terms of getting Parrish [Hall]. A lot of kids who got that email on the north side had to move to Pittenger and Palmer [Halls],” Yun said.

Jay Leeds ʼ23 was one such student. Only four students occupied Palmer Hall, which was previously empty but opened for the relocated Mertz residents.

Students were moving their things until very late on Friday night.

“It took quite a bit of time, probably around eight hours or so, because the main issue was that they provided moving carts, but Palmer has no elevator… I had to load stuff into the moving cart and then carry it into the dorm up into my new room, box by box,” Leeds told The Phoenix.

According to Leeds, Palmer Hall was cold when he arrived. Leeds reached out to Workbox twice after reaching out to his RCC. Though he voiced his concerns on Sunday, November 15, the heat did not turn on until Thursday, November 19.

Lee and Yun also found moving to be inconvenient.

“We were very, very frustrated,” Lee explained. “I just think this [pipe issue] could have been resolved much earlier instead of them continuously coming every three weeks… It just got so bad, much worse than it already was in the beginning.” 

Yun also expressed frustration with the situation, especially the move-out order’s poor timing during a busy week.

“It was such an inconvenience to me because we’re all so stressed for the semester, and suddenly we suddenly get this notification saying [we] have to move out because the bathroom is closed off for the rest of the week,” she said.

Adams expects this pipe issue to be resolved by the time students return to campus in February. 

“A contractor began work on the Monday after Thanksgiving, and as of today, they have removed the section of the floor, uncovered the pipe, and are working on a repair… It appears that the soil settled over time, causing stress in the cast iron pipe, which caused the failure. We expect the repair to restore the system to normal, and we should not experience any further issues,” Adams wrote in an email to The Phoenix on December 8. 

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