The frigid cold of the “bomb cyclone” has left students living on and off campus marred by broken heating, collapsed ceilings, black mold, and “waterfalls of water” caused by scores of burst pipes.
After a "bomb cyclone" and a week of temperatures often below freezing, major transportation delays, and hazardous road conditions, these students join the slew of Philadelphia residents who have experienced burst pipes over the past week.
All three on-campus high rises — Harrison College House, Rodin College House, and Harnwell College House — experienced pipe bursting and water flooding, as various residents, front desk staff, and security guards confirmed.
Division of Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger added that unlatched windows contributed to the freezing of the pipes.
A big part of the reason the high rises were so susceptible to burst pipes is that there were still some students staying there over break, Lea-Kruger said, whereas many other on-campus residences were closed.
Many Greek houses have also experienced burst pipes and water damage, such as Alpha Delta Pi, Sigma Delta Tau, Sigma Nu, and Delta Kappa Epsilon. Students living in off-campus residents have experienced significant pipe burst issues as well.
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said that pipes bursting and water flooding are to be expected with the weather. Rush confirmed that there had already been 12-14 reports of burst pipes in the college houses and in various academic buildings that reached the Division of Public Safety as of Jan. 8, two days before classes began and likely before many students returned to the campus residences.
The result of this water damage is very costly. Rush said the first priority is safety, but that necessitates the hiring of more housekeeping staff to repair any damage and bringing in staff from Penn's Facilities and Real Estate Services to repair the pipes.
In an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, FRES Director of Trades for Operations and Maintenance Mike Fohner wrote that FRES takes preemptive steps as well, including calling in additional plumbers, steamfitters, and control technicians "to monitor systems that were susceptible to cold-weather impacts to improve response time and minimize damage."
While these incidents of frozen and burst pipes do not occur every year, Fohner wrote that they are not unexpected considering the frigid weather conditions. This, combined with residents leaving their windows open, causes the frozen pipes and flooding.
"We continue to monitor the forecasts, looking at predicted temperature and precipitation events, so that all necessary resources can be on-hand to prepare ourselves to handle campus facility issues, as they arise," Fohner added.
Additionally, because the fire sprinklers system is directly linked to the water pipe system, the potential for the sprinkler system to be ineffective is hazardous. All on-campus and off-campus houses that reported pipe damage are thus put on “Fire Watch," when DPS assigns security officers to each building.
Rush said that this occurs whenever the Penn Police are notified of a burst pipe — whether in an on-campus or off-campus building — and the water system for a building is shut down, since the fire suppression system is disabled by a lack of water.
The Penn Police warn that more leaks will most likely occur in the coming days. Frozen pipes expand and rupture due to the immense pressure of the frozen water, leaking once they fully thaw out. Pipes that were located outside of building insulation, or those in unheated interior areas, are most at risk of rupturing.
Since the start of the new year, the Philadelphia Water Department reportedly has been responding to 20 to 25 water main breaks per day as a result of the weather and water temperature in the pipes. Rush said Penn has been lucky that the water main breaks on streets have not been so present.
“With global warming we know that the weather is much more erratic than it was 20 years ago,” Rush said. “Can we anticipate next winter if it is going to be as bad or worse? No, we cannot.”
Some Harrison residents, particularly some of those living anywhere between the seventh and the 11th floors, were informed by email on Jan. 6 that their rooms had been flooded over break because of burst pipes. Students also returned from break to find multiple fans situated in the lobby areas and hallways in Harrison to dry soaked areas.
The email Wharton sophomore Priscilla Felten received from Harrison’s Residential Services staff said that apartments that were numbered 10 on any of the seventh through 11th floors suffered water damage. Felten lives in one of the affected apartments on the seventh floor.
Upon arrival, she discovered unreported mold and extensive water damage on her room's walls, wardrobe, and bed. In other parts of the apartment, pieces of the ceiling had fallen in and mold had formed.
Felten said that she and her housemates had been permanently relocated to another apartment in Harrison since black mold had formed, rendering their old space uninhabitable.
On Jan. 13, Special Projects Coordinator Jeremy Estrada sent an email to all Harrison residents informing them of a list of steps “Penn Residential Services would like [them] to take” in order to “to ensure that [they] get the best circulation of warm air flow in [their] apartment[s] and to help prevent pipes in the building from freezing and bursting.”
The list included closing and latching windows, setting the thermostat to 65 degrees or higher, and leaving the doors to the rooms inside the suites ajar to allow air flow.
Residents living in Harnwell also received an email from the College House Office on Jan. 9 that the House Office had to be relocated due to flooding.
Residents in several apartments in Rodin had to be relocated around campus following leaks spanning several floors. According Sanaa Ounis, a College senior who lived on the 22nd floor, the residents on the floor above her forgot to leave their heating on during the winter break resulting in a burst pipe with water damages that seeped down to the 17th floor.
Because the pipes in the Quad are so old, there are already precautions put in place to ensure pipes don't burst even during winter breaks with stable weather, 2018 Engineering graduate student Pedro Rizo said.
Off-campus housing has not been excluded from the pipe bursts.
College and Wharton senior Dylan Adelman was the first to return to his Sigma Nu chapter house to find that one of the main pipes in the basement had burst and flooded the area with several inches of water, breaking the water heater in the process.
“We reached out to our property company that contacted a plumber to handle repairs and they said it might be a few days and it will be very expensive,” he said. “A lot of people throughout the city have had these problems and [the city’s water department is] backed up with orders.”
Engineering senior Decklan Cerza returned to his off-campus house on 40th and Pine streets on Saturday to find that the heating system had stopped working — while his thermostat read 70 degrees, the house was 38 degrees. Even after the heating system had been repaired on Monday, a pipe burst as the house started to heat up.
“I just heard something crash upstairs and what happened was a pipe burst in our ceiling, making the entire living room ceiling come crashing down,” he said. “Water was pouring down like a waterfall. It was awful.”
Cerza said that the property’s leasing company will be paying for all structural damages, while the furniture damage will be covered by his roommate’s renter’s insurance.
College sophomore Charlie Moore, who lived in an off-campus house near 40th and Spruce streets with six other roommates, was forced to vacate his residence and find new housing for the semester because his house was flooded over break. He said that one of his roommates discovered that the basement and the first floor of their house was covered with water when he visited the residence during break.
“[The flooding] took up a lot of my time during break because I had to find a place to live or else I’d be homeless when I come back,” he added.
Moore said that he and his roommates contacted Penn Residential Services, which offered them housing in Harrison through the end of the school year. Lea-Kruger said that if students in off-campus housing experiences a maintenance emergency and cannot stay in their residence, Penn Residential Services offers students temporary housing in on-campus college houses for no cost.
However, Moore said that because renovations to his off-campus residence will likely last a few months, they will be paying rent to stay in Harrison until the end of the school year.
Rush said that Penn has always had a policy of making sure students have places to stay while their places of residence are unlivable. In the past, Rush said Penn has had to put students up in hotels, such as the nearby Sheraton Philadelphia University City Hotel or the Inn at Penn.
“If you live in anything owned by Penn and something like this happens, you’re going to be well taken care of,” Rush said.
Deputy News Editor Manlu Liu contributed reporting to this story.