Water pipe bursts in Brandenburg Education building

Derek Pufahl, Staff Writer

Water, water everywhere, but in all the wrong places.

The all too familiar sound of the jackhammer was back to shake the lower levels of the Brandenburg Education Building last Wednesday.

Wayne State College maintenance workers hauled out broken concrete chunks in 5-gallon buckets in an effort to gain access to an old sewer pipe that broke underneath the basement floor.

Project supervisor and HV/AC energy manager John Kielty said that maintenance was alerted to the problem when a pool of water was found gathering on the floor of the electrical room in the basement.

The water was shut off by maintenance to the entire building so that they could safely work on the project. The building’s water system is a network of iron and clay pipes, with the addition of a lot of the modern PVC pipes.

“The problem with this building,” Kielty said, “is that we have no prints to go off of. It was built in the earlier 1900’s and then remodeled again in the 1940’s.”

Walk down into the Brandenburg basement and it’s like entering another world. A water world.

“This is the pipe we’re having trouble with,” said Bernie Ruskamp, the lead building engineer, with his hand wrapped around the cast iron menace.

Walk south down the long, narrow hall, turn right at the large white PVC pipes and there is the jackhammer, surrounded by a team of people. They crouch because of the low ceiling and stare into the hole as they excavate, trying to get to the cause of the problem.

“We had the city in here with a pipe locator. We know that it’s 20 feet in,” Ruskamp said.

Pipe locator? Think: cool, electronic, scanning gizmo.

“It goes under the ground here, and then that way,” Ruskamp said pointing west, directly at a brick wall. “Then it turns and goes that way [south].”

Or at least that was the consensus on Wednesday.
It wasn’t until Thursday morning that the team found out they should have been looking north instead of south.

Ruskamp said that they’re not certain what caused the pipe to break, but it wasn’t the cold weather. It can most likely be attributed to the fact that the pipe has been here since the building’s construction in 1914.

“That’s a hundred years old,” Ruskamp said. “With these old pipes, it could very easily have cracked or rusted.

“They have no water in the bathrooms up there,” Ruskamp said, “so it’s critical that we finish up and get the water turned back on.”

Thursday morning, maintenance was able to take out the broken pipe and replace it with PVC. Right before noon ,the “Do Not Use” signs were taken off the bathroom doors. The Brandenburg staff is happy to have their water back.

The problem pipe was cast iron, but joined a clay pipe under the ground, and this is the part that cracked. Only a little ways from where the pipe meets the ground, right by the stairs that lead down to the basement.

Kielty said that what happens with these old clay pipes is that that the ground shifts over time and it’s enough to cause a crack.

There haven’t been similar problems in other buildings as of late Kielty said, but that a lot of the campus’ buildings are built around the same time period and have the old pipes.

As of now, Ruskamp said it’s a temporary fix.

“We like to be proactive when something like this happens,” Ruskamp said. “That way we can prevent it from happening again.”