Under Pressure

Before dawn at SDSU on Tuesday, August 23, a "chill water" main ruptured under a large walkway on the east side of campus. One million gallons of water were released, flooding an area between between Aztec Center, the East Commons, and Love Library. Small amounts of water seeped under the library's doors, but there was little damage. The building's air conditioning was disabled, however, and the library was closed at noon on one of the hottest days of the year so far.

Outside, campus crews used a backhoe to reach the broken main, creating what appeared to be a sizable sinkhole. The incident is the third time in recent memory that the campus cooling infrastructure has broken and spewed water. Some observers at SDSU think the culprit is a pressurized system that was installed several years ago. Water is forced into buildings from a central chill plant at perhaps the lowest spot on campus, not far from the old Aztec Bowl. Moving the water uphill requires high pressure, which spikes and subsides depending on temperatures. As a result, valves in the pipeline come under sudden changes in pressure.

Since the California State University's budget woes started a few years ago, SDSU's physical plant has had to cope with pressures of its own. To avoid layoffs, the grounds and building-maintenance crews voted last year to save jobs by taking a 10 percent cut in pay. But the plant's skilled workers turned down the same option and lost six or seven jobs.

On August 9, Tracy Tannihill, a maintenance supervisor, died of a heart attack during surgery. He was 61. Now crew are working full speed to clear up the broken-water-main problems before school starts on Monday, August 30.

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