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Burst water main damages buildings

Severe flooding from a 48-inch water main break Monday evening caused widespread damage to buildings on campus, confirmed Doug Sweet, Director of Internal Communications of McGill’s Media Relations Office (MRO).

“[The damage is] very extensive to James Annex, where water broke windows in the back of the building and rushed through the main floor,” Sweet said. “That building requires significant repairs.”

According to Sweet, McGill staff and a cleaning firm worked through the night to clean up debris and complete repairs.  Water continues to flow near the Wong and James Administration Buildings, but according to a message from the MRO, the water does not pose a threat to the buildings and is being diverted into the sewer system.

Classes reopened on Tuesday in most buildings following the cleanup operation.  Classes in Wilson Hall and Birks Hall were cancelled, and those at the Wong Building were relocated. Additionally, Service Point and the James Administration Building were closed.  Sweet noted that Wong will likely be closed for a few more days and that administrators are trying to determine when other buildings may be reopened.

The flood began at 4 p.m. when a water main burst under Doctor Penfield Ave. in front of the McTavish Reservoir. Campus buildings were evacuated and all evening classes were cancelled.

The flooded area stretched from Dr. Penfield Ave. to Ste. Catherine Street, and from Union Street to Peel Street, causing pedestrians and traffic to be re-routed in downtown Montreal. At about 9 p.m., the MRO announced that the City of Montreal had shut off the water from the burst main.

The Reservoir is in the middle of the second phase of renovations, which aim to replace the surrounding tank and water mains. The repairs, conducted by the City of Montreal and estimated to cost $16.4 million, began in October 2012 and are expected to be completed in August 2013. Built in 1852, the Reservoir provides drinking water to 500,000 Montrealers in seven boroughs of the city.

A McGill Fire Prevention Crew worker who chose to remain anonymous said that, despite the harsh weather conditions of the past week, the cold was probably not the reason for the break.

“[The construction workers] were working with the big machinery,” he said. “They hit the seal, it broke, and they thought there was no pressure in that pipe, but there was pressure in the water.”

The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President Clubs and Services Allison Cooper said the flooding was a great inconvenience for SSMUfest, the Winter semester’s Activities Night. The event was planned for the evening, but had to be rescheduled for Tuesday night, the day after.

“It’s the worst possible timing,” she said. “We told the club leaders to get here at 3:30 p.m., and now they are trapped with no people to greet.”

The MRO sent out a series of emergency emails throughout the evening. One message referred to the flooding as “a serious situation,” and mentioned that “a number of buildings” on the downtown campus had been flooded.

“We are trying to assess damage as best we can, but it will be extensive,” read an MRO message from Monday at 4:55 p.m. “We will provide more information as it becomes available.”

Following the evacuation of the SSMU Building, SSMU President Josh Redel said that there were no signs of flooding in the building.

“We’ve been checking the basement, and everything’s good to go,” Redel said. “We haven’t seen any leaks in areas where we’ve noticed them before.”

In Sept. 2011, a leak in a 16-inch water main at the entrance of the pumping station of the Reservoir

flooded Service Point, McLennan Library, and Wilson Hall. In 2009, a burst in a 42-inch pipe at the top of Dr. Penfield Ave. flooded many of the same buildings.

“We continue to assess damage and costs and will work as hard as we can to get our teaching and research spaces reopened,” Sweet said. “Our prime consideration, of course, is the safety of the members of our community.”

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