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City Shuts Down Kresge Following Flood

By Vicky Hsu

STAFF REPORTER

The City of Cambridge shut down Kresge Auditorium for approximately 48 hours this past weekend, after the sprinkler system flooded Little Kresge theater with four inches of water and caused damage to audio/visual equipment and furnishings of Kresge auditorium.

The sprinkler system was activated in the A/V booth of Kresge auditorium early Saturday morning. The cause is currently under investigation.

“Water was meant to come out [of the sprinklers] at a level intense enough to put a fire out,” said Phillip J. Walsh, director of the Campus Activities Complex. According to Walsh, the water cascaded down the stairs of the main auditorium from the booth on the mezzanine, and accumulated in the elevator pit at the foot of the stage. From there, it seeped through to the ceiling of the little theater, affecting its lighting and electrical system.

“An intense level of water was pumped out for a period of about forty minutes,” said Louis W. Graham, Jr., manager of Audio-Visual Services.

“By the time the sprinklers were shut off, four inches of water had accumulated in little Kresge theater, soaking the stage floor,” said Michael Katz, technical instructor of the Music and Theater Arts department. “It could have been a lot worse.”

Walsh said the sprinkler also set off an alarm in the facilities department, whose personnel responded together with the fire department.

Cambridge orders Kresge closed

The City of Cambridge ordered Kresge to close late Saturday morning due to mounting safety concerns. “Water had leaked into the electrical systems; it is standard procedure to close the building until the water is cleaned up, the sprinkler head is repaired, and the wirings are all checked out,” said Michael Nicoloro, assistant commissioner of the Cambridge Inspectional Services department.

Nicoloro was on the scene Saturday. He approved the reopening of Kresge from his office 9 a.m. Monday morning after reviewing a letter from a licensed MIT electrician, who wrote that everything had been repaired. “The electrician now takes responsibility if anything goes wrong. He stands to lose his license if he did not believe in everything he stated in his letter. MIT has excellent mechanics who are very good at what they do,” Nicoloro said.

Katz said the CAC had already cleaned up most of the damage, but some repairs need to be completed. “The masonite originally put on top of the stage floor last year for protection now has to be replaced,” Katz said. “However, the CAC has done an amazing job in cleaning up and keeping the situation from getting worse.”

“The repair work left to be done in little Kresge does not appear to be significant at this time,” Walsh said. “It is minimal disruption to the best degree.”

Walsh said the quick action of the staff has allowed the drying of the auditorium without permanent damages. “Rugs and seating in main Kresge needed to be shampooed, the walls of Little Kresge still need to be repainted, and the stage floor needs work, but it is not as bad as I was afraid it might be,” Walsh said.

The CAC had to deal with a similar situation earlier this year when a pipe broke in Wong auditorium, causing water damage to the seating, rugs, and ceiling tiles.

As for the A/V booth itself, Graham said two high intensity projectors, some computers, monitors, and other supplies were heavily damaged.

“The risks are too great to turn the machines on for testing, and even if they work for now, there is no guarantee that they won’t fail sometime later. Fortunately, the sprinkler was isolated in one area of the booth, so some equipment, including the sound system, are still operational,” Graham said.

Cause of false alarm unknown

The cause of the problem has not yet been determined, but fire is not suspected. “There was no fire that anyone can tell,” Katz said. “I have heard rumors that the temperature in the booth was over 130 degrees. We just don’t know at this point,” Katz added.

“The sprinkler head may have gotten too close to a light and overheated, the heating system may have not shut off when it was supposed to, audio systems may have been kept on by accident, and heat just built up,” Walsh said. The Department of Facilities is heading up the investigation to determine the cause of the alarm.

Flooding cancels Israeli festival

CAC staff were in the lobby of Kresge when they saw the water seep through the mezzanine. They were there preparing for an Israeli dance festival scheduled for Sunday, which was subsequently cancelled.

“It is a very large event, and the CAC was unable to relocate it in time,” Walsh said.

“We were able to contact most of the ticket holders and all of the performers in time,” said Miriam Rosenblum, chaplain and director of MIT Hillel. “We also sent out information about the cancellation over various news organizations Sunday morning.”

MIT Hillel is working to reschedule this event for later in the spring. “There was a lot of disappointment because people from area colleges were going to attend, and performers were coming from out of town,” Rosenblum said.

With Kresge reopened, many are optimistic about hosting events in there as soon as Tuesday, March 12. “The sound system is the largest component to doing a show in Kresge,” Graham said. “We are talking with local area contractors now to look into replacing the damaged equipment.”

Many scheduled events relocated

“The first couple of classes scheduled for Monday in Kresge were relocated to areas like the student center and the dance studio in Walker,” said William A. Fregosi, the technical coordinator of theater in the Music and Theater department. He was in charge of finding substitute spaces for the events and classes that were to take place in Kresge.

“The major problem left is the masonite of the stage floor in little Kresge. We’ll probably cover the floor with a rug for tomorrow,” said Alan Brody, associate provost for the arts. “We had a backup room after the flood occurred, because we wouldn’t have been able to reschedule.”

Brody is cosponsoring a talk by Italian theatrical director Sergio Escobar, to be held in Kresge little theater on Tuesday. “The people at the CAC did an absolute superb job at cleaning up,” Brody said.

However, Fregosi said he was not optimistic about the Escobar talk on Tuesday. “Water is still dripping today from the orchestra pit to parts of the ceiling of little Kresge. I have a back up room planned if needed. If the dripping continues, it would be impossible to host a public event there,” Fregosi said.