Last Sunday, sewage flooded the basement level of Gillson Hall. A blockage caused a flood that extended from the boiler room in the basement to the hallway into the lounge. As a result, restroom access was impacted in the building for the remainder of the day, leaving many residents un-showered and wondering what happened.
Facilities Management spent the entirety of Sunday afternoon and night working to give students access to the restrooms by Monday morning. Craig Petersen, director of operations for Facilities, explained that the boiler room was ankle-deep with sewage when they first arrived. Facilities worked well into the night to drain the flooding, remove the blockage, and begin to repair the pipes. He estimates that the total cost will be around $100,000 between repairing the damage, replacing pipes and flooring, and removing the trees that contributed to the blockage.
Michael London, the associate vice president of Facilities Management, explained how the flooding occurred.
“Tree roots had grown into the pipe, and debris such as paper towels and other foreign objects thrown into the waste pipes were hung up on the roots, thereby blocking the waste pipe and backed up the system,” London said.
The blockage was temporarily fixed by using water to blast out the debris. However, the pipe in question is part of the original building and is still in need of replacing. The current plan is to update the pipes that run out of the building and remove the trees that grew into the old pipes, according to Petersen.
However, the pipe in question is part of the original building and is still in need of replacing
“When facilities got on-site on Sunday, they realized that it was a little bit more than the facilities department could handle, so they had to get a private company to come out and take a look at that,” Student Housing and Residential Education Director Torry Brouillard-Bruce said. “They still have more work to do with the plumbing, the blockage was further down the pipe, not in the building itself. But once they got that cleared up, we were able to go back and allow students to use the facilities.”
From broken blinds to old, damaged carpets, Gillson Hall is widely known as USF’s most out-of-date residential hall, having been built in 1965. According to Petersen, the replacement of the sewage pipe is the first major work done on the sewage system in the last three years.
Resident Elina Lingappa explained how, while the basement was flooded, a large piece of wood was put on the floor to prevent students from getting wet as they used the laundry room and kitchen. The bathrooms were opened within 24 hours of being shut off, but the impacts were still felt.
“I had to go down to the UC (University Center) to go to the bathroom,” said Lingappa. “The actual flooding was gross and made it difficult to get to the laundry room on a Sunday. I also had to go out of my way to the UC to get drinking water.”
First-year students weren’t the only ones impacted by the flooding and restroom closure. Maaz Hashmi, a resident advisor (RA) for the fourth floor, shared how he and other RAs were affected. “It was really hectic because I had my residents knocking on my door throughout the day, and they were really worried because at first, they thought it was a minor defect, but then it ended up lasting all night,” he said in a text. “A lot of my residents kept asking if they could at least use the sink or if they could go to Hayes or Koret to use the bathroom.”
Amanda Mekhail, Gillson’s resident director, sent out an email on Monday morning explaining that drilling had started at 4 a.m. in order to make sure that residents had water access that day. The email also encouraged residents to use less water and be conscious of what goes down the drains.
“While this backup was caused by roots infiltrating the plumbing that took waste away from the building, it was compounded by increased usage in non-flushable items — namely hygiene wipes,” Brouillard-Bruce said in an email.
“Individuals are using other items, such as hygiene wipes, that do not degrade immediately and therefore cause more issues,” Brouillard-Bruce continued. “It is down the pipes where the issues occur. We are going to work to educate students as to why these types of products are damaging to our systems, and quite frankly not sustainable and fly in the face of the university’s mission to be sustainable.”
“We are going to work to educate students as to why these types of products are damaging to our systems, and quite frankly not sustainable and fly in the face of the university’s mission to be sustainable.”Torry Brouillard-Bruce
The general consensus among residents of Gillson Hall is that while the flooding and the restrooms being closed was inconvenient, it seemed largely unavoidable. Some residents also noted their appreciation for the quick response and solution carried out by the Facilities Management team.
A week after the flooding, the basement level of Gillson Hall was crammed with fans, plastic ventilator tubes, and plastic sheeting covering the floor, all in an effort to prevent mold. The carpet in the lounge has been taken out and the room has a plastic sheet across the center for people to walk on while Facilities obtains a price quote for replacing the carpeting. Petersen said that the flooring in the lounge is going to be replaced as soon as possible.
Two private companies, Ideal Restoration and Therma, have been on-site over the last week working on the required repairs.
At the time of print, both the laundry room and kitchen are accessible.