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Winter storm kept facilities teams busy over holiday break

After a fire sprinkler head broke, water froze within an air handling unit in the rooftop mechani... After a fire sprinkler head broke, water froze within an air handling unit in the rooftop mechanical room at IU Bloomington's Multidisciplinary Science Building II. Photo courtesy of Capital Planning and FacilitiesFacilities teams on all Indiana University campuses have protocols in place to prepare for and respond to winter weather, but extreme conditions such as those caused by December’s winter storm can test these efforts.

In addition to snow, the sub-zero temperatures of the recent storm caused frozen domestic water and fire sprinkler pipe failures in about 30 buildings on five IU campuses. Even though campuses were on break, facilities teams were on site to keep the campuses running and respond to temperature-related events.

“Our extraordinary facilities staff members maintain our campuses and keep them beautiful all year,” IU President Pamela Whitten said. “I’m especially grateful for their tremendous efforts over the winter break in response to the extreme cold.”

“While they may not always be visible, facilities staff on all of IU’s campuses are working at all hours to keep IU’s facilities running, no matter the conditions,” said Thomas A. Morrison, vice president for capital planning and facilities. “While several systems froze and caused water damage during December’s winter storm, our teams were able to respond quickly to mitigate the damage while also preventing several additional failures through proactive monitoring. I’m grateful to our facilities staff for their dedication to performing difficult work in difficult conditions, particularly over the semester and holiday break.”

When winter weather is forecast, facilities staff monitor conditions and enact a series of protocols including

  • Adjusting staff schedules and assignments to enable flexible responses.
  • Notifying external vendors, such as water mitigation specialists, to be on standby.
  • Conducting extra walk-throughs of buildings, often with IU Police assistance and particularly on nights, weekends and holidays, to ensure exterior doors are secured and assess overall temperature conditions.
  • Inspecting unoccupied spaces such as mechanical rooms, stairwells and loading docks where problems may not be immediately discovered.
  • Monitoring centralized building heating systems to ensure building temperatures are being maintained and adjusted as needed.
  • Checking fire protection and domestic water systems for failures.

At IUPUI’s Campus Center, a fire sprinkler head near an exterior glass wall broke after being frozen. Campus Facilities Services staff responded immediately to the alarm, but some water damage still occurred. Areas impacted included the IUPUI Bookstore and Jaguar Campus Recreation. These areas are open, with some repairs and painting remaining to be completed, which will not affect operations.

Facilities staff also prevented possible damage in additional buildings including the School of Dentistry, Coleman Hall and Eskenazi Hall by locating frozen lines and draining the water before these systems burst.

In Bloomington, Facility Operations staff responded to a fire sprinkler alarm at Multidisciplinary Science Building II. Staff found a frozen fire line spraying water above an air handler in the rooftop mechanical room. Within an hour, the water was controlled, but about 30% of the building was impacted. The building was nearly back to normal last week.

Alan Koss, building maintenance director for facility operations, said he could not have asked for a better response from all involved.

“We had people on site; some were here covering events, others were here because they were concerned about our campus and knew that being on site and available was the best path to success,” Koss said. “Our people are amazing and showed up at night on a long holiday weekend.”

Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to report any concerns about building conditions to their campus facility services office:

Beth Feickert is project specialist in Capital Planning and Facilities.