UAF Can’t Hold it Anymore: Sewer Pipe Situation Gone Rotten

Don Derosier

Sun Star Reporter

“As long as the toilet flushes, nobody worries about it; they’d rather fix the toilet than the line beneath it, and now it is coming back to haunt us,” said Cameron Wohlford, a Senior Project Manager with Design and Construction, a sub-unit of Facilities Services (FS).

In the fall of 2006, early reports hit of a sewage failure on Thompson Drive between Geist Road and Tanana Loop. Literally, the pipe disappeared. All the water on campus had to be shut off until the problem was corrected.

In 2007, the UAF Facility Services did an assessment of the whole campus, sticking video cameras down the two main pipes that ran through the campus, gathering data of broken pipe, pipe with large mass roots, pipe full of grease or gravel and or any other mysterious disappearances of pipe. This was the beginning of Phase One operations, with UAF initial operating funds of $410,000 in 2008, and state appropriation funds of $1.5 million in 2009.

The sewer pipe beneath our feet is made out of wood stave with a spiral band to hold it together. It has been under the campus for the last 50 to 60 years with little maintenance done, due to little funding, until recently.

The next failure happened in 2008. While storm drain repairs were underway in the Moore, Skarland and Bartlett buildings, the Lola Tilly Commons began to flood from its dishwasher. The split pipes were replaced with a new line after Patty Center lines were also beginning to fail, with the ditch in front beginning to fill. During the repairs, FS discovered the roof drainage system connected to the sanitary system was not in code, so they replaced the storm drain system as well.

In the fall of 2009, the Wickersham basement flooded with sewage, and no one knew why. After draining the basement, FS could not find any traces of the pipe that was thought to have existed. Instead, all they found was a hole.

In the future, FS would like to reline the existing pipe that runs through Lola Tilly to Patty Center. Wohlford describes a less intrusive method of construction: shut off the water from both ends, slip in liner with low-density fiberglass filament and let it cure. Before this method is plausible, the pipe has to be in good condition to accept the liner.  Most of the pipes under the campus lay in dismal disrepair.

According to the FS, as of September 30, 2009, it has expended $1.8 million in completing Phase One and Phase Two: the main sanitary and storm system near Lola Tilly, Patty Center, Moore Hall, Chapman Building, and the main campus outfall line under Geist Road. The work for summer 2010 is currently underway, funded by $1 million in state appropriation.

“All the scars you see out there [are] contributed to the work we have been putting into restoring the sewer system,” Wohlford later notes. “In Phase Three, I hope we can replace the lines that run through the Fine Arts Building to Bunnell Building.”

By 2013 to 2014, major renovations to the sewer system should be completed within campus to begin the installation of new pipes, which will meet the criteria to the master plan of the entire campus.

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