Schapiro Hall sprinkler malfunctions over winter break

A sprinkler failed and went off on the third floor of Schapiro Hall around midnight on Dec. 29, causing damages to several faculty offices, including pieces of research. The cause of the failure remains unknown.

Security officers responded about 20 minutes after the incident and shut off the water to the system. “Even at that extraordinary response rate, a substantial amount of water affected a vertical stack of offices,” said Diana Prideaux-Brune, associate vice president for Facilities. After a subsequent clean-up and repair, estimated to cost $25,000, faculty members were able to return to their offices on Jan. 11.

The top floor of Schapiro Hall hosts the offices of a number of professors from the social sciences. Nancy Bellows, administrative assistant for political science, said that she was able to see that “there was extensive water damage to carpets and [that] walls and sheetrock had to be replaced and repainted.” The sprinkler that went off was located in the office of Anand Swamy, professor of economics, who said he lost some books and papers in the inundation, but “nothing critical.”

“Buildings and Grounds and their contractors did a good job of cleaning and drying,” he added.

There has been speculation that the failure was caused by the low temperature maintained in Schapiro Hall over winter break. However, Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, said that the sprinkler’s activation was “unrelated to shutdown initiatives.” Prideaux-Brune also emphasized that the winter shutdown and the reduced temperature in the academic buildings did not cause the sprinkler to go off, noting that Facilities had been monitoring the buildings and that the temperature above the office ceilings never dropped below 44 degrees. “The temperature was also similar in all areas where sprinklers are located,” she pointed out.

Facilities is currently working together with the sprinkler head manufacturer to come up with an explanation for the failure. “However, with over 10,000 sprinkler heads across campus, it is not unlikely that one would fail eventually,” Prideaux-Brune said.

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