“Our roofs don’t leak.”

Submitted by Joseph Watson

“Our roofs don’t leak.”  That’s what the architects said in a meeting with library staff when the plans for the new library were first presented.  Somebody in the audience noticed that much of the library was covered with a flat roof and pointed out that there was a history of flat roofs failing in the harsh New England climate.  Their concern was met with firm assurances from the architects that they knew what they were doing and the roof would not leak.

Well, here we are.

Roof leak up lvl Feb 09.jpg

Since the Main Library opened in 2004 we have had more than 20 water incursions. Four of them were from leaky pipes or malfunctioning HVAC equipment, which is bound to happen with new construction.  The worst of these was when a part in a cooling unit in the server room broke, flooding the raised floor almost to overflowing.  Five of them were from groundwater rising up and flowing in, which, hopefully, is a very rare event.  Fortunately only the floors got wet. Twelve of them were from roof leaks, sometimes persistent ones.  A particularly tedious leak started on the upper mezzanine on the north side of the building in the spring of 2006.  For two years water intermittently dripped through the ceiling, ruining drywall and carpet, and distracting students studying nearby.  Roofers were finally able to fix the leak in the summer of 2008.

Library materials have gotten wet only twice.  The first time was when the building was new and window seals above the atrium failed allowing water to flow in around the window, travel along the sloped ceiling, and then drip down onto the art books.  That leak was fixed and hasn’t recurred.

The second time books got wet was on Friday night, January 30, 2009.   Just as the building was closing, a student stopped at the Circulation Desk and said there was water leaking onto book shelves on the upper level.  Kellam Ayres investigated and acted to save the day.  She informed Facilities Services who deployed “on call”  personnel who were conveniently already on campus.  Kellam worked with them to remove the wet books from the shelves, cover the effected book stacks with plastic in order to divert the water, and place buckets under the drips. (Pictured above.) She then set the wet books up to air dry.  We in Preservation really appreciate the efforts of colleagues like Kellam who follow procedures and carefully ensure that damage to the collections is minimized. THANK YOU KELLAM!!! The leak continues to drip on and off.  Facilities Services, who are also frustrated by these problems, had a roofer here this week to try to locate the source and they were unable to.   We’ll be keeping an eye on this leak and will be on the look out for others.

When conditions indicate threats such as heavy rains in warm weather or a snow covered roof with light rains in cold weather, I routinely inspect the upper level for leaks during the weekdays and Circulation Staff members do the same in the evening and on the weekends.  We’ve been lucky that all parts of the building are pretty heavily traveled so leaks have always been discovered fairly soon after they start.

Each library Circulation Desk has an Emergency Manual in which procedures are outlined.  These manuals can be consulted when something goes wrong.  The portion on reacting to water leaks is excerpted below.

“Water Damage

1.    Stop flow of water.  As needed call Facilities Management:  x-5472 (If Facilities Management is closed, call security x-5911 to reach “on call” facilities workers.)

2.    As the situation requires, protect items not yet wet by covering with plastic or relocate them to a dry area.  Turn off, unplug, and cover any computer equipment with plastic to protect it from water damage.  (Supplies are located in closet next to 135.)

3.    Until setting them up to dry:

Do not open wet books.
Do not separate single sheets.
Do not remove covers.
Do not disturb wet file boxes, prints, drawings, and photographs.

4.    Notify the Circulation Desk Supervisor, who will in turn notify the Disaster Team particularly the Preservation & Processing Manager.  The Disaster Team is responsible for preparing a plan of action.  See contact information on page A-3 and call them at home as needed.

For more information on recovery from a water incursion see Section E”

3 thoughts on ““Our roofs don’t leak.”

  1. Jeff Lahaie

    Have the Architects commented? Have we sent them a bill for the damages? If they were so confident of their design, they should stand by it. Did the college get something in writing from them saying they would stand by their design?

  2. Joseph

    Jeff, your questions are reasonable, but I’m not in a position to answer them and I don’t believe that knowing the answers would help us much. The way things are structured, LIS is not a customer of the architects, Facilities Services is. Facilities Services is charged with maintaining our buildings, and we’re their customer. It’s true that LIS has to cope with the water incursions, but FS pays for any expenses related to fixing them. It wouldn’t be appropriate for LIS to contact the architects directly any more than it would be for somebody to call BTS directly instead of calling Telephone Services if their phone wasn’t working.

    I have communicated our frustrations to FS and to the folks in the Office of Facilities Planning who, for the most part, once a building is complete don’t have much more to do with it. The people on the front lines, who actually have to contract with the roofers and try to fix the problem, are as frustrated as we are.

  3. Joanne A. Schneider

    Hi Joseph, I remember when the architects said that! I’ve learned that it’s not the architects you need to get assurances from but the engineers. At Colgate, we have not (yet) had leaks but we had other issues regarding how well the mechanical system met specifications. The university sued the architect of record (we also had a design architect) who settled which paid for add-on features to the mechanical system which met the agreed upon specifications. Good luck with stemming the roof leaks.


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