c/o Sam Hilton, Assistant News Editor

c/o Sam Hilton, Assistant News Editor

Exley Science Center lost access to water after the water main, overseen by the City of Middletown, broke during the morning of Thursday, Feb. 3, shutting off plumbing in the building for approximately six hours and temporarily closing the Science Library (SciLi) for around 15 minutes. Physical Plant, the Middletown Water & Sewer Department, and Vincent Cahill & Sons Excavating repaired the leak before 4 p.m.

Public Safety (PSafe) Officer Shawn Gage noticed water coming up from the ground near the south entrance of the Exley Science Center in the middle of the morning, and reported the issue to University Plumbing Shop Forperson Dean Canalia at around 9:20 a.m. The Physical Plant Office then contacted Vincent Cahill & Sons Excavating, the University’s local contractor for septic services, which notified the City of Middletown. They began excavating the broken pipe shortly after.

“The leak was too severe to wait, so we took immediate steps to notify the campus, place signage in Exley, and excavate to repair the pipe,” Director of Physical Plant Operations Michael Conte wrote in an email to The Argus.

According to Conte, the break was most likely caused by the variable temperatures over the past few weeks.

“Underground water mains are known to break in winter,” Conte wrote. “Freezing and thawing causes shifts in soil density and [the] pressure it exerts on anything it surrounds.”

Conte explained that the large size of the water main may have factored into the break.

“In my 35 years I’ve dealt with over 20 water main breaks of varying sizes; this was among the largest,” Conte wrote. “The water main feeding Exley is 6 [inches] in diameter.”

Due to the size and scale of the water main burst, plumbing had to be shut off in Exley and would remain off until late that afternoon. While there was no risk that water would enter the building, the issue still posed a danger to public health. Specifically, bathrooms and water fountains in the building were non-operational, posing a problem for those inside.

Shortly after 11:30 a.m., Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian Andrew White received word from Physical Plant about the break. With no clear scope of the damages or timeline for repairs, White had to make a judgment call about the public health concerns. White had conversations with administrative staff in both University libraries about whether to close SciLi, weighing factors such as the inclement weather, unknown time frame, and disruption to students. White made the choice to close SciLi, announcing this decision in the early afternoon.

“We made the decision to close the library because we anticipated, based on everything that I had heard, that it would be a long outage and [that] the city didn’t want us in the building,” White said. “Public buildings with students and bathrooms with no water? It’s not a great mix. It’s not a great combination. So, quite frankly, we closed.”

Shortly after closing the library White received word that it was safe to keep students in the building and that portable toilets would be set up outside.

“Once we closed, we [quickly] heard that we could re-open,” White said. “So I think we were closed for a total of 15 minutes.”

While White felt it was the right call, he felt sorry about the disruption.

“I think it was really disruptive for the students who were…in the library at the time, and a little surprising, so I’m really sorry that we caused all that drama for everybody,” White said.

By 4:00 p.m., the break in the pipe was repaired, water flow was restored, and SciLi was once again open. 


Sam Hilton can be reached at shilton@wesleyan.edu.

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