Memorial Union sprinkler pipe bursts due to cold weather

The pipe burst Thursday morning, filling the lower level of Memorial Union’s main seating area with several inches of water.

By Emmet Jamieson

A pipe connected to Memorial Union’s sprinkler system burst because of cold temperatures Thursday, filling the lower level of Bengal Lair with several inches of water.

The pipe, located behind Starbucks near Memorial Union’s east entrance, burst at around 10:15 a.m. MU News Bureau Director Christian Basi said that because the leakage came from the sprinkler system, the fire alarm went off automatically, prompting students to evacuate the building and summoning the Columbia Fire Department to the scene. A maintenance crew came to fix the issue. They repaired the pipe and cleared the area by the afternoon, though Starbucks remained closed for the rest of the day.

Basi said that although the university has not been able to determine what exactly happened, the cold weather over the past week was behind the burst pipe. He theorized that the water in the pipe might have frozen and created a dam, and as the ice thawed under Thursday’s sunny weather, the water trapped inside came gushing out.

Over the past week, temperatures in Columbia have consistently stayed around zero, dipping to a low of negative 8 degrees on Feb. 16. The temperature began to rise on Wednesday, and on Thursday, the sun came out and the temperature rose to about 16 degrees by mid-morning.

Danny Daugherty, a sophomore at MU who has contributed to The Maneater, filmed a video of the incident. He had just ordered at Starbucks when he noticed the leak. He said he watched as students sitting on the lower level scrambled to gather their belongings and escape the water, which he said smelled “like a dirty bathroom,” making him think it was sewage waste.

Basi said this was not the case.

“Good grief, no,” Basi said. “The water may have been muddy because it was picking up whatever dust and dirt was in the ceiling. It would not have been water that was coming out of there if a sewage pipe burst.”

Basi added that sprinkler pipes are more prone to bursting than sewage or domestic water pipes because they cannot be flushed, meaning they are always filled with stagnant water that is more likely to freeze than flowing water.

He also said that the issue might have entirely occurred this morning. MU maintenance staff check the pipes in buildings every day, Basi said, and they take “immediate action” when they notice a damaged pipe. He said he had not heard of any problems with Memorial Union’s pipes in the days before the incident.

As far as damage in the building, Basi said the university did not yet have an estimate of the cost but he believes it will be minimal. He said only some carpeting, floor tiles and ceiling tiles had sustained damage.

Daugherty said he did not see that the water had damaged any students’ belongings. He added that the situation seemed “very weird” and not particularly scary for everyone present.

“We were all just kind of confused for the most part, just because it was kind of a comical situation, in a way, that just suddenly water started falling out of the ceiling,” Daugherty said.

Memorial Union never closed during the incident or during the repairs.

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

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