Radiator leaks, causes water damage

Kurt Benedict, Online Editor

Last month a leak caused by boiler water leaking from a frozen radiator pipe damaged several offices and rendered some classrooms unusable, and furniture and books have been damaged from water.

Assistant Principal Doug Faris described what happened and the aftermath.

“We had a radiator spray water into the English office, which caused a sort of flood. The water also went into the walls and ceilings of the front part of the building and damaged the first floor conference room and some of the classrooms on the first floor, as well as the English office and the main office conference rooms,” Faris said.

Faris also described what happened after the leak, including some electrical damage to the English office and furniture that was damaged was removed from the office.

        “We had the damaged furniture and books removed from the English office, and we also had the electricity to the English office turned off for a period of time as a precaution,” Faris said.

District facilities maintenance supervisor Mike Critchfield described the leak and the aftermath, noting that the leak was caused by the frigid temperatures of nearly ten degrees below zero with wind chills reaching nearly thirty degrees below zero on January 31. Critchfield noted that the leak was actually caused by a frozen radiator pipe in the radiator in the English office, and not by the boiler itself.

“The boiler actually was not the problem. The boiler just happened to be a by-product of what happened. What happens normally is that there’s a boiler in the boiler room of the high school, and it is what heats the water, and then it sends the hot water through piping out to areas of the building. There is a unit that is in every classroom, and what happens is is that hot water goes through each of these unit vents and then a fan blows air across the hot pipe and it blows warm air into the space,” Critchfield said.

Critchfield also described the leak in detail, noting that the leak originated in the English office radiator unit and that due to that, the English office was the room which sustained the most water damage, and in total three classrooms and a conference room on the first floor were also damaged in addition to several hallways. Critchfield noted that staff were able to catch the leak very early on within a couple of hours, before the leak completely depleted all the boiler water in the system, and Critchfield noted that had that occurred, the extent of the water damage would have been far more severe.

“What happened is one of these unit vents (and they are generally on an outside wall so that they can bring in fresh air), with the 10 degrees below zero on that day and the windchill being close to -30 on that day, it froze that pipe. Then, the pipe leaked and the water was dispersed throughout that area and being that it was on the second floor, it allowed water to go through the ceiling and onto other floors below. . . . The English office was where the leak originated; and fortunately, we were able to catch it very early on within a couple of hours,” Critchfield said.

Critchfield described the cleanup process, including a crew of about 10 people, consisting of custodial and maintenance staff which was put together within an hour of discovering the leak. Critchfield said that the crew worked for around four to six hours cleaning water up and removing it from the affected areas, and noted that with water damage the key is to not let it sit for a long period of time and to dry the items saturated by the water as soon as possible.

“[They] are working to clean the water up, extract the carpets, and remove damaged ceiling tiles; set up dehumidifiers and fans and we ran them overnight and we dried everything very quickly. . . . [We] spent a good 4-6 hours cleaning water up and removing it from the affected areas, and then we placed fans and dehumidifiers to dry the air and to dry the items that were saturated by the water. [With] the ceiling tiles, those are easily replaced, so we removed the damaged ceiling tiles, and will be putting in new ceiling tiles when the areas are dried out, and we also did take the steps to clean, deodorize, and sanitize all of the carpeted areas and all of the upholstered furniture that was affected,” Critchfield said.

Critchfield also commented on the fact that while the damage was mostly confined to the English office, the custodial and maintenance staff worked hard to put everyone back into their normal spots as soon as possible, and by the next week following the leak, all the classrooms and offices with the exception of the English office (which remains closed for further repairs) were back in use. Critchfield also said that the piping in the radiator unit in the English office which froze and caused the leak will need to be replaced, but that that repair will not occur until the Spring because the repair requires the power to the boiler to be turned off completely and currently the building still needs heat, and making the repair would affect the entire building. Critchfield said that because of this, supplemental heat is being used in the English office until the Spring when the heat in the entire building can be shut down so that the repair can be made.

“We were fortunate in being able to get everybody back into their normal spots relatively quickly. Although, the unit vent in the English Office [where the pipe] was frozen and then leaked, the piping in that unit will [need to] be replaced and put back into service, but we don’t do that at this time because we still need the heat, and in order to make that repair you actually have to shut the boiler down which would affect the whole building. We are using supplemental heat in the English office until such time that we can shut the whole building down from heat,” Critchfield said.

Critchfield said that they were fortunate to catch the leak as quickly as they did and praised the dedication of the custodial and maintenance staff members willing to come in and perform the services needed to open up the school for the next day.

“We had custodial staff members and maintenance staff members willing to come in and perform the services needed to open up the school for the next day. . . the dedication of the staff members that came in to help with the cleanup was very much appreciated,” Critchfield said.

The leak occurred on January 31 and by the week following all rooms with the exception of the English office were back in service.