By Shanna O’Mara
Students walking to and from class last semester may have noticed a gaping hole in front of Fine Arts, a dirt bowl for the spaghetti tangle of gas pipes underground.
Caution tape held off passersby after several general services staff members reported smelling gas, and contractors detected, located and fixed the leaks on older pipes that could have posed a potential threat to those on campus.
“When you’re working with gas pipes, you always have to be careful,” said Michael Reca, associate vice president of general services. “You can’t take any chances around them.”
With maps half a century old, and powerful machinery that could crush the pipes under their weight, contractors had to be extremely careful not to disrupt the fragile system. Because the accuracy of the maps could have been compromised by their age, construction workers often dug by hand to ensure precision.
“We do everything we can to keep everyone safe,” Reca said. “We work with Public Safety and have a protocol in place to deal with these issues.”
Public Service Electric and Gas, bought through a third party broker, powers 75 percent of the campus, and the Trigeneration Plant, completed in 2014, powers the remaining 25 percent.
Although the Trigeneration Plant currently only supplies heat to Sweigart Hall and air conditioning to Memorial Hall, time and money will allow for more power to run from it through campus.
“The plan is to expand the capabilities as funding becomes available,” Reca said. “[The plant] has the capability to provide supplemental cooling and heat to Fine Arts and Science.”
An outside contractor, Joseph Jingoli & Sons Inc., came in to work on a 22-foot section of pipe.
“They’re one of the best in the state at underground pipe repair,” Reca said. “There’s nothing they haven’t seen. They can fix virtually any problem in one day.”
In the fall, there was a water main break in the Alpha Xi Delta house, and contractors shut the water off for four hours to quickly fix the issue. Later in the semester, they were also able to isolate a leak caused by a cracked pipe by turning off the gas feed to six buildings including the academic buildings, the chapel and nearby Greek houses.
“There are 48 buildings total,” Reca said. “We only cut six off. That’s how we do it — we identify the problem, isolate it and act quickly to fix it. At no point was anyone in danger. Safety was always our main priority, and we tried to be as least disruptive to classes as possible.”
The repairs were complete before students dispersed for winter break, though more construction is expected in the spring. When weather conditions improve, Rider plans to increase landscaping in the academic quad and replace benches that were uprooted during the digging.
“It’s going to happen again,” Reca said. “On a campus and in a community this old, these problems are expected, and we’ll continue to keep safety our priority going forward.”