Flood puts two HWC floors out of commission

Students looking to play basketball or indoor soccer will have to move their pick-up games to the Smith Center, after the third and fourth floors of the Health and Wellness Center flooded and University officials decided to close the area indefinitely.

Classes usually held on those floors of the building have been moved to the auxiliary gyms of the Smith Center. Students can use the Smith Center for recreational play, but are restricted to a short time period-between 9:30 p.m. and midnight- when the gyms are traditionally available for free use.

Tony Vecchione, assistant athletics director for Facilities and Operations, said intramurals won’t begin until mid-September and he does not know how they will be affected until the University evaluates the extent of the damage.

More than half an inch of water collected on the fourth floor basketball courts after a soccer ball hit a sprinkler on the ceiling at about 5:30 p.m. last Thursday, officials said. Water seeped through the fixtures and began leaking onto the third floor gym about an hour later. The third floor, its mezzanine and the fourth floor will be closed until further notice.

“People were playing soccer on the third floor, and a ball was kicked and knocked the cage off of a sprinkler head … It set off all the fourth floor sprinklers,” Vecchione said. “The water kept going for 20 minutes, and water and wood don’t really mix.”

Industrial fans and dehumidifiers have been drying the courts since Friday, and no visible puddles remain on the floors. But the gym floor panels have buckled and separated in sections throughout the court. Vecchione said he does not know how long it will take for the floors to completely dry, but outside company Belfor took moisture readings throughout the week and will do so again Thursday.

The floors’ closure has forced more students down to the weight room, where lines are growing increasingly longer.

“I guess I have to run now, but I don’t like using the machines,” senior Alanna Elie said. “It’s forcing me to work out downstairs when usually I go upstairs and kick around (a soccer ball) instead.”

First-year law student Aram Gavoor said he thinks the University should extend Smith Center hours for non-varsity athletes to accommodate students who don’t want to wait in line for a workout.

“Smith doesn’t have that much to offer, but it would get people out of this building who wouldn’t ordinarily be here,” Gavoor said.

Vecchione said the entire fitness center was evacuated the day of the flood, and housekeeping staff responded immediately to the incident. Belfor, which specializes in floods and leaks, was also called in that evening.

“It was tough to keep battling with (the water), but house keeping did a great job of extracting the water,” Vecchione said.

Vecchione said there are about 20 sprinklers on the fourth floor ceiling, but could not say how much water was pumped out. The sprinkler went off almost instantaneously upon being struck by the ball, but patrons made their way out of the gym area without getting wet.

The water was initially extracted through large vacuum-like machines, which sucked up most of the water. House keeping continued to mop the excess water throughout the night.

Vecchione said by Friday morning, Belfor set up machines to blow hot, dry air across the gym floors. Temperatures on the third and fourth floors are nearing 120 degrees from the hot air being blown into the gym. Vecchione compared the temperatures to “summertime in Phoenix.”

Panels of the courts were also removed so large dehumidifiers could evaporate water that seeped underneath the floor and soaked the foundation.

“There are two layers of plywood under the planks, and they acted like a sponge,” Vecchione said.

He added that the machines, basketball hoops and soccer goals were not damaged in the incident, but the gym floors may eventually need to be replaced. Vecchione said the extent of the damage to the floor is still being evaluated.

Vecchione called the incident “accidental” and said wellness center officials will not take any further measures to cover the sprinklers.

“It’s not likely that this would ever occur,” he said. “There are cages over the sprinkler heads to protect it.”

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