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Amherst Construction to Repair Corroded Steam Pipe Segment

By A. Arif Husain
Staff Reporter

Since mid-December, construction crews have been at work on Amherst Alley in the vicinity of Burton-Conner House. Excessive deterioration of a manhole and a steam pipe segment prompted the repairs, said Project Manager Vaughn Crayton, an engineering assistant in Physical Plant.

Unexpected problems have caused delays, but the project is expected to be completed in three weeks, Crayton said.

The damage was discovered when residents of nearby dormitories complained of television cable problems last May. According to Crayton, telecommunications workers arrived to find the service manhole inaccessible because of scalding water. The problem was traced to leakage in a nearby steam pipe, which led to excessive heating of ground water, Crayton said.

"The campus steam distribution system is quite old," Crayton said. Factors such as ground water and electrical currents expedite corrosion. The ground water table is high around the whole campus, but particularly on the west side of campus.

The pipe being repaired was originally installed about 18 years ago, said Superintendent of Utilities Roger Moore. "Typically an underground steam and condensate line can last upwards of 35 years," Moore said. "That line down Amherst Alley has deteriorated faster than most of the other lines," he said.

David M. Matsumoto '98, a Burton-Conner resident, feels that the construction has been going on for much too long, but it "has not been a problem."

A similar project to replace a segment of pipe and corroded manhole adjacent to the current site was completed last May, around the same time the new damage was discovered, Crayton said. That construction began in mid-1993.

Crayton anticipates future problems with west campus utility lines.

Repairs take time

To locate the affected areas, Physical Plant workers gathered information from an infrared thermography survey, Crayton said. In addition, hand-dug test pits were required before beginning work, Crayton said. As a result, excavation did not begin for six months, he said.

Repair involved removal and replacement of insulation on approximately 250 feet of piping, Crayton said. The rotted manhole had to be removed and redesigned, and temporary steam had to be provided for Burton.

The excessive ground water posed difficulty, as the excavation trench had to be reinforced and constantly drained to be safe for workers. The hole collapsed once during construction so safety was an issue, Crayton said.

Installation of a new precast manhole should begin Thursday, Crayton said. The entire project was budgeted at around $200,000, and will end with completion of the manhole.

The Amherst construction project is part of a campus-wide rehabilitation program, said Director of Planning O. Robert Simha MCP '57.

During the winter, 250,000 pounds of steam per hour are produced in Building 42 and distributed to most campus buildings through roughly 25 miles of underground transmission lines, Moore said.

"Our work is an ongoing process, and we try to repair or upgrade areas that are exhibiting signs of deterioration [or] leaking," he said. Plans are to replace the whole system along Amherst Alley up to Westgate when funds become available, Moore said.