Sewer water flooded lower-level drains Thursday morning due to a pipeline collapse near the Miller, Kratz and Yoder residence halls.
The 56-year-old clay pipeline connects all three dormitory sewer lines at the railroad tracks, where it then passes under the tracks and continues into the Main Street sewer system. The blockage is presumed to be located where the three lines meet.
The first report of sewer backup was in the lowest residence hall location, a Yoder first apartment where Laurel Breckbill, resident director, lives. Water was forced up through her bathroom floor drain, causing minor flooding.
There were also reports of minor flooding in first floor connector restrooms. While these areas were mostly contained, morning showers on the upper floors continued to back lines up further.
“We brought the big trucks in to suck everything out,” said Glenn Gilbert, Goshen College’s utilities manager. “We knew Thursday that there was a problem maybe under the track, but everything seemed to be flowing all right again at that point.”
But the problem didn’t stop there. While water continued to back up, residents of Yoder and Kratz were asked to forgo showering in the dorms and to use faucets and toilets sparingly.
“The showers were a huge volume of water that [the line] couldn’t keep up with,” explained Gilbert.
Physical Plant has not yet been able to get a camera into the pipeline to discover the source of the collapse, but they estimate that it may be summer before the problem is totally resolved.
“Most likely we are going to have to abandon that sewer line and create a new parallel sewer line under the railroad tracks, tying it into the existing system,” said Gilbert.
While the collapse was a bit of a shock, Gilbert says that it isn’t the worst plumbing issue he has come across here at the college.
“We’ve had worse problems,” said Gilbert. “A 4-inch water pipe burst in the basement of Kratz, filling it with 4 feet of water. There was also a transformer down there which shorted out, causing the whole campus to go black at four o’clock in the morning. So that was a long day.”
Creating a new line will be a lengthy process, requiring a team of engineers to design the layout of the new line, as well as working with the railroad company. Stopping railroad traffic will require the college to pay several fees as well as get the railroad’s lawyers to draw up an easement to get another line through the tracks.
In the meantime, a pump has been placed on the east side of the tracks. The pump connects to another, significantly smaller, 4-inch pipe, which has been turned into a pressurized line. The pressurized line will pump the water out and across the tracks, sending it to another line, which connects with the city’s sewer system.
At a Yoder four floor meeting, Physical Plant representatives noted that, while showers are now permitted, it is smart to keep in mind the amount of water that is being used in order to avoid further problems.
Students began using shower systems again Tuesday evening and the pump has so far been successful fulfilling the job of the original sewer line.
“It’s the kind of thing you don’t think about when it’s working,” said Gilbert. “It’s only when something doesn’t work that it gets our attention.”