Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Leaky sprinklers

Some of our readers might think that once we finished the renovations our infrastructure issues were solved. In my view we don't pass a week without some sort of problems or issues to deal with.

This week it was the sprinkler system. Some explanation is needed.

Few years ago one of the chemistry building went up in flames (as chemistry buildings often do). As a result, the building had to be totally renovated. Luckily the damages were mostly (or only) financial. After this unfortunate event the firm that provide insurance for the university raised the premium as long as the university does not put in fire prevention devices. This resulted in a long process in which new sprinkler systems were added to existing buildings.

Our turn was up earlier this year. We went through a series of meeting where were told of the importance of this move, and how the best choices have been made to minimize the chances of a fire (on the one hand) and accidental dosing (on the other). We were told that the firm that installs these sprinklers meets the highest standards for quality and cleanliness and would be "virtually unnoticed" when they worked.  I was one of a group of researchers who expressed worries about our delicate equipment getting damaged by the installation works or getting water damaged post-installation. As such we were further soothed by responsible administrators that there will be tight supervision of the works and the "acceptance tests".

The following months were rather annoying. The worker closed part of our parking lot and used it for cutting pipes. They had to drill halls through the concrete structure along the hallways and between hallways and labs to traverse the whole building. When they worked inside the lab we had to remove all items from benches and shelves and cover these to protect everything from the dust (as they needed to make large holes in concrete). Luckily for us, the work in the robot room was less painful, as they found pre-made holes they can use and did not need to drill new ones.

Few weeks ago the system became operational. Although it was supposedly checked for leaks, the first day we had a leakage in our corridor. When they came to fix it, they did not drain the water properly and caused a major flood along part of the corridor (luckily further out from our lab).

Today, I came in and noticed that the floor in Cecile's office (the outer room to my office) is wet. Initially I took it to be remains of the cleanup earlier in the day. But then I noticed that the wall was also wet. A quick examination showed that the slow, but steady, leak was from the ceiling. Opening the ceiling tiles, I immediately saw the source --- a junction in the sprinkler system. 

Calling the maintenance department, I got a response relatively fast. It turned out they increased the water pressure this week, and therefor they were discovering junctions that were not properly sealed. To fix the problem, the fellow banged on the junction with a hammer and claimed that this puts the o-ring into place. I was not convinced, but after waiting an hour it seemed that the leaking stopped.

And so, we all wasted an hour and half during one of the busiest day of the recent months. I should be thankful that this did not occur above any sensitive equipment.

PS. Two days later, I returned to the office (I was out due to conferences and such) to find the whole area wet. Seems that the leak returned. This was late afternoon and I had to call an emergency maintenance person. He closed the water to the whole corridor and depressurized the system. 

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