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Broken pipes lead to torrential water flow and swamped basements on Valley campus

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

Flooded tunnels and thousands of gallons of water lead to power shut-offs and flooded basements at Valley College.

By Solomon O. Smith, Political News Editor

A maintenance worker clears gutters near the South Gym. (Photo by Solomon Smith/The Valley Star)

Update: Valley College President Barry Gribbons has elaborated more on the cause and damage caused by last month’s flooding.

A six-inch pipe between the Art Building and Student Union building, which carried chilled water to cool the buildings, broke at a 90 degree joint. The pipe was old, according to Gribbons, but it was tied into the new chilled water tank along Burbank Boulevard. An estimated 250,000 gallons were spilled into the east tunnel, flooding the basement of Campus Center and damaging several transformers. As a result, power was down for a third of the campus and the school could not cool a significant portion of their buildings.

Currently, the school has been able to repair the pipe and restore the cooling system to most of the campus. However, repairs are still underway to restore power to Campus Center and the South Gym.

“The transformers aren’t mass produced, so it’s a little challenging to get them repaired,” Gribbons said. “We don’t have a time estimate for those repairs yet, so the two buildings will be without power likely for several weeks.”

A few classes were affected by the power outage, such as the Fire Tech classes having to move out of the Emergency Services Training building and into the Administration and Career Advancement building.

According to Gribbons, though the basement was flooded, the damage was not extensive due to the lack of drywall. The school has already begun the process of repairing some of the damaged flooring and assessing any items that may need to be replaced.

As of yet, there is no cost estimation for the repairs.

The original story follows:


A pipe burst underground at Valley College yesterday, spilling thousands of gallons of water into the Campus Center basement and adjoining tunnels servicing the campus grounds.

“There’s been some flooding in one of our utility tunnels and in the Campus Center, and that affected one of our transformers, and it could also affect some others,” said Valley President Barry Gribbons. “But right now, about a third of the campus is without power and the situation is fluid, forgive the pun.”

According to Gribbons, power outages could affect nursing and respiratory classes as well as some of the Fire Tech classes. Gas-powered pumps were used to move the water out of the Campus Center basement, but damage had not been assessed due to unsafe conditions. Power was automatically turned off on the east side of the campus, leaving several buildings in the dark. Internet and communications were also affected.

“It is too early to tell right now,” said Mike Lee. “Right now the goal is to remove all the water.”

The interconnected tunnels under Valley are used to service various parts of the school’s infrastructure including power systems, local water, communications and the newly installed cooling and air conditioning system. The cooling system’s tank, next to the Journalism and Business Building, is connected to the air conditioning system via a cool water loop, according to several plant and maintenance workers. The pipes carry thousands of gallons of water from the tank and “several swimming pools worth of water” leaked into the tunnels.

Mike Navarrete, an electrician for Valley, received a message at 12:07 p.m. asking about power outages at the Campus Center. He was in the tunnels earlier at about 10 a.m. and guesses that the accident occurred between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. Other maintenance workers reported water in parts of the tunnel at around the same time. Because of the way the tunnels are connected and the slope of the campus, the Campus Center and the access tunnel next to the South Gym were the most flooded.

The South Gym access tunnel had about five feet of water and two pumps were used to remove the water. Until all of the water is pumped out, electricity will remain off until the situation is further evaluated.

This story has been updated.

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