By Greg Allen
Since students began to arrive on Springfield’s campus back in August, there has been something slightly different across from Locklin Hall. It’s something that you can’t miss when walking by. It’s a thick, white cloud rapidly and constantly emerging out of a pipe.
The pipe has been pumping out steam nonstop since August, and many students and faculty have wondered what this steam is and why it’s pouring out of this pipe. Although it hasn’t necessarily ruined someone’s day or caused complete outrage, the steam pipe has left members of the college curious.
Junior Brandon Eckles said, “The steam can be annoying at times, but mostly I just wonder, ‘why is this even here?’ I just try to ignore it and go on with my day.”
In early August, trees began to die and grass began to brown in the area across from Locklin. The sidewalk was really warm if touched. Greg Walters, Director of Facilities and Campus Services, and his team determined that there was most likely a steam leak causing the dying plants and the warm sidewalk.
Members of Facilities dug down about 10 feet underground to find that a piece of the pipeline had numerous cracks in it, leading to the steam leak. After careful evaluation, Walters and his team determined that in order to repair the pipe properly, they would not be able to fix the leak before school started up. The project would have to be put off to the summer of 2017.
Walters said, “We needed to figure out why this piece of pipe cracked because after just 10 or 12 years it should be fine. We wanted to make sure we had an engineer to correctly design it. We need to cut into the road, so doing it with a lot of people on campus would be difficult. The hot water in The Living Center would also be cut off, and cold showers just aren’t fun.”
Rather than filling the hole that was dug and continuing to allow the steam to leak underground, Walters determined that it would be better to vent the steam into the open air.
“If we continued to allow the steam to leak underground, it would create a void, and we would most likely end up with a sink hole in Alden Street which would be really bad,” Walters said.
Walters explored the idea of making the repairs over winter break. However, the city of Springfield does not allow major road work in the winter time unless it is an emergency. Asphalt is not made in the winter, so full repairs of the cut-into road would not be able to be made.
“We’re really trying to do this the right way and make a permanent repair because this is going to be very expensive. We want to make sure we don’t have to do this again 10 years from now,” Walters said.
The steps to learning why the pipe was damaged commenced when the pipe was sent to a lab. The pipe was sent to the lab to determine the root of the problem. What caused this pipe that should have lasted 50 years to crack after 10-12 years? The results showed that the cracks were stress corrosion cracks. These types of cracks are caused by a combination of chlorides, stress, and heat.
“You need all three of those things for it to actually crack,” Walters said. “If it’s just salt, it won’t crack. If it’s just stress, it won’t crack. You need all three, and we had all three.”
Walters realizes that the steam pouring out into the open air is not aesthetically pleasing, but it’s necessary in order to make the proper repairs to avoid future issues.
“It looks bad on us,” Walters said. “It looks like we aren’t maintaining our stuff, but I’m willing to put up with that to make sure we do this correctly in the summer.”
Aside from the eyesore that the steam is, it is completely harmless to the environment. The white color of the steam is caused by the treatment that the water receives. The water is treated for corrosion, but all of the treatment substances are biodegradable and environmentally safe.
The repairs will begin sometime in June or July, and even though it will be summer time, some students will still be living in the Living Center for summer internships. Because of this, a boiler will need to be inserted so that the building has access to hot water.
Although there is not yet an accurate price estimate, Walters anticipates that the full repair will cost around 100,000 dollars. The temporary repair cost the college over 25,000 dollars. Because the pipeline is on Springfield College property, all costs are the college’s responsibility.
“It was that expensive to cut out the little piece that was about 10 feet long and get things going. Now we have to rip up the road and do another 40 feet of it. So we’ll be in the 100,000-150,000 dollar range. Everything has to be opened up, closed up, and then it has to look like we were never there,” Walters said.