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After sprinklers in Rodin caused extensive flooding recently, residents wanted an explanation.

Credit: Ananya Chandra

For Rodin College House residents, recent weeks have produced an untimely amount of maintenance hazards. And some residents were not exactly pleased with the developments.

A spokesperson for Facilities and Real Estate Services was not available to comment on this article, but a former FRES mechanic, Mike Patruno, provided answers for why certain maintenance issues recur in the high rise college houses.

Why did Rodin flood so badly from just a sprinkler going off?

When a sprinkler gets activated, water comes “flying out” until someone can come shut the valve off, Patruno said.

The reason so many floors get flooded when that happens, he said, is just a combination of the sheer volume of water that the sprinklers put out coupled with the fact that only two people on duty at any given time have the capability to turn the valve off.

“Especially if they’re on the other side of the campus, that water could be down in the lobby” by the time they get there, Patruno said. “That’s one issue that should be corrected. There should be people there.”

Patruno said sprinklers are one maintenance issue that Penn has little to no control over. Unless they have more people on duty ready to shut off the valves at a moment’s notice, flooding will continue to happen.

The sprinklers can also be set off for a number of reasons, not just a fire.

“In the Mayer dorms, a couple of students were playing football in the hallway and hit one of the heads and the sprinkler system went off,” he said. “You’ve got no control.”

Federal regulations now require sprinklers, he said, and there are really no alternate options.

“It’s either water damage or loss of life, and that’s a little bit more important I believe,” Patruno said.

Why was the water black that came out of the sprinklers?

The water in the sprinkler lines sometimes sits for so long that it comes out black, Patruno said.

“I don’t know if they treat it with something,” he said. “I think it’s just from the water sitting in the lines and it is dark when it blows.”

It is the norm for sprinkler systems, he said, not something unique to Rodin or Penn.

“It gets all over the place and it can’t be helped,” he said.

Did Rodin flood for the same reason as Harnwell College House last May?

Harnwell also flooded because a sprinkler went off during finals week last school year. The water dripped from the seventh floor all the way down to the mezzanine.

Patruno said the same thing applied to Harnwell College House as it did in Rodin: The water was so devastating because it takes time to shut the valve off.

“You have to get up that elevator, get to that floor, turn that isolation valve off, and then whatever water’s in the line will cease,” he said, but added, “Those heads blow. It’s havoc. I worked in the Quadrangle and we got there pretty quick but it floods pretty good. They let out a lot of water.”

Rodin’s fire alarm also went off on Saturday. What was that about?

“There was a Penn worker working on the steam ventilation system and that caused the fire alarm to go off,” said Cornell Pitt, the Rodin building manager. Pitt didn’t know why staffers were working on the ventilation system, or what exactly had happened to cause the alarm to sound.

Interim Rodin House Dean Rick LaRosa said he also wasn’t sure what had happened, and wasn’t sure who would.