Plumbing project rushed in wake of backup, leaks

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Occidental is preparing to replace it entire sewage pipeline system after emergency repairs to the sewage pipe that backed up into Johnson Hall on Feb. 9. The move is part of a planned renovation of the college’s aging plumbing system.

“When [the pipeline] backed up in the bathroom, it was a surprise, but we were planning on the project for about six months. We finally got approval for it the Thursday before the back up,” Director of Facilities Management Thomas Polansky said.

The component of the pipeline that was damaged is part of a larger sewage system that stretches from Bird Road down through the Academic Quad and impacts a substantial part of the campus. According to Director of Communications Jim Tranquada, the whole piece needs to be replaced before there are more incidents.

“We have an aging infrastructure, so sometimes things break before we have a chance to fix them during the regularly scheduled maintenance. Occidental is a beautiful campus with a mature landscape, and one of the disadvantages of having a mature campus is that you have older infrastructure that can break down,” Tranquada said.

While the original system is made of outdated cast-iron pipes, the replacement pipes are made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastic, which is much more durable than cast-iron. However, Polansky noted it is not necessarily environmentally friendly.

“The plastic is probably recyclable, but that wasn’t a priority. The most important thing was it being super durable. It’s sort of a one time use thing. It’s quite possible that in a hundred years, they’ll be able to recycle it,” Polansky said. “We do think about sustainability all the time. It’s a huge factor in a lot of decisions, especially in facilities when you are going through products fairly rapidly.”

In addition to considering environmental concerns, Facilities wanted to ensure operations at the college would not be interrupted during construction. Smaller areas will be blocked off for five- to seven-day periods to accommodate the renovations, but workers will not block off the whole Academic Quad at one time. Thirty-foot-long paths will provide alternate routes, according to Polansky. Students may remember the fenced off parts of campus last week, which was for the emergency repairs to the compromised pipe in Johnson Hall.

One person in particular has been considerate of students and Occidental community members in this endeavor, according to Polansky.

“Particularly, there’s a Project Manager in Facilities named John Mortl. He’s been leading the effort for replacing the sewage system. He’s been incredibly diligent about avoiding disturbing people on campus. He came in right when we had the backup and got to work,” Polansky said.

The college is still waiting on permits from the city, but once they are received, the project is estimated to take about two months.