Potomac House pipe rupture causes flood

A major water pipe ruptured in Potomac House Monday morning, causing flooding in more than 10 rooms of the two-month-old freshman dormitory.

The flood, which is one of several plumbing problems in the residence hall since September, has raised concerns among residents about the building’s water system. Displaced residents slept on cots in dry, neighboring rooms Monday night.

Nancy Haaga, director of Campus Support Services, said a broken valve connected to a large shower pipe on the seventh floor caused the flood. Although the origin of the break remains unclear, she said it was likely due to movement or strain on the pipe after its installation.

The pipe burst at approximately 11:45 a.m., said room 706 resident Sawina Bhandari, who heard loud rushing water near a wall in her bathroom. Within minutes, the water traveled down a concealed pipe shaft to the third floor, flowing down to every room directly below it.

“There was a waterfall basically coming out of the light fixture,” said room 506 resident Deirdre Clark, pointing to a fluorescent light in her bathroom.

Housekeepers and representatives from GW Facilities departments arrived at about noon to clean up and assess damage. University maintenance personnel vacuumed and dried the affected rooms, and later distributed dehumidifiers.

“(Facilities staff) said, ‘If you have any damages, we’ll take care of it; just let us know,'” Bhandari said.

Phuong Nguyen, a assistant property manager for Residential Property Management, said Wednesday that no students had yet reported damage to personal possessions.

“We don’t guarantee anything at all,” Nguyen said of the University’s policy on compensating students for property damage. “Usually, it’s a case-by-case basis.”

Although Monday’s flood was the most severe incident in Potomac House this fall, there have been several other plumbing problems in recent weeks.

A clogged water filter stopped the flow of hot water in the building last week for about a day and a half. Other problems included unpredictable fluctuations in water pressure and temperature, said resident Caitlin Loehr.

“I didn’t think there would be this many problems (in a new building),” said Loehr, who has also had trouble with a running toilet in her bathroom since September.

Haaga said that since the residence hall was occupied soon after its completion, there was little time for structural flaws to be repaired.

“All new buildings experience a few operational issues or disruptions after they are completed,” Haaga said. “While these may be inconvenient, they are not beyond expectations for a new building, and they have been resolved quickly without any major disruption or recurrence.”

Loehr said that she was disappointed with the University’s response to the problems.

“The fact that they’re really slow about things and they don’t tell us what’s going on when things happen, it’s kind of frustrating,” Loehr said in a telephone interview Wednesday. Monday’s flood came only two days before the official grand opening of Potomac House, which took place Wednesday morning.

The event, which had a theatrical theme, began with several speeches by Potomac residents under a large velvet curtain in the lobby. The hall’s theme is culture and arts.

Several administrators attended the event, including University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Dean of Freshman Fred Siegel. Trachtenberg gave a speech about new dormitories built in recent years. The event ended with a cast party in the basement with free food and music.

-David Ceasar contributed to this report.

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