Water Damage to South’s Tunnels below the Main Building

Jane Kuhnlein ‘23, Page editor

The boiler room at South below the main building. Photo courtesy of Zach Farrell ‘21

According to Richard VanGorder, Director of Building and Grounds for Public Schools, over the past few months, water damage in the tunnels below the main building has become an issue that needed to be addressed. The school district addressed it earlier this month and hired a construction crew to fix and prevent most of the water damage.

VanGorder mentions that the tunnels are underneath the hallway between Cleminson Hall and the greenhouse. These tunnels are majorly used by South’s engineers, so they can get to and from the boiler room and anywhere else that needs mechanical work.

“We (the engineers) do daily checks on the tunnels, so we use them every day,” engineer Wayne Kelly said.

The district has hired a construction team to fix the present water damage and prevent more water damage. The main reason for this water damage, according to VanGorder, is that the groundwater level has risen substantially in the past years.

“Our groundwater is roughly six feet down,” VanGorder said. “Well, our air chambers and our boiler rooms and those tunnel areas are more than six feet down so they constantly have some water against those concrete walls, and without a weeping system around your building moving at the water rate, that’s where a lot of this water’s coming in and entering those spaces through cracks or holes in concrete.”

According to Kelly, the water damage is visible to the engineers. The water seeps through the crevices in the walls and eventually harms the area, especially working with electricity. When part of a building is underground, water damage is inevitable.

“There’s visible water damage in the tunnels on the walls, but some of that stuff has been addressed over this past season with the construction that has been done,” Kelly said.

Ever since South was built, VanGorder states, water damage has been an issue in the tunnels. The district has been aware of this, but it’s gotten so bad recently that they had to take money from their sinking fund for emergencies.

“Currently we have groundwater issues in the building,” VanGorder said. “All the cast-iron roof conductors and storm sewers are practically 100 years old, and we found a number of those that were leaking into the crawl spaces.”

According to Kelly, the construction doesn’t interrupt their day to day work, the only thing affected was that certain parts of the tunnels had to be closed off when they did the work. The tunnels have gotten new ceilings and flooring from the construction that was already happening. The repairs have been taking place this month, and the construction has been doing their best to get it done as soon as they can.

“It’s an ongoing project and it will go on for quite a while,” VanGorder said. “It’s not 100% solved, but we’re a lot better shape than we were three-four weeks ago. Every day we’re making progress and it took 100 years to create the problem that we’re trying to solve in less than a month.”