Bursting Vergennes Union High School pipes shut gym, flood halls

VERGENNES — Flooding due to frozen pipes in the Vergennes Union High School sprinkler system has twice struck the building, most recently on Monday in the main VUHS hallway — but more seriously back on Jan. 2, when water damage to the school’s main gymnasium floor will put the gym mostly out of service for the next six weeks.
On Monday, a sprinkler pipe froze and then burst over the VUHS health office, just off the main hallway connecting the school’s two wings, at about 5:30 p.m.
As a result, water flooded into that office, into the cafeteria next door, out into the hallway, and into the guidance suite across the corridor.
Confusion momentarily reigned when the incident automatically triggered the school’s alarm system and a school evacuation, including a full middle school gym that was hosting junior varsity and varsity boys’ basketball games set to begin at 5:30 p.m.
Principal Stephanie Taylor described events in an email.
“When the alarm system recorded the sprinkler system leak, the emergency system goes off and requires an evacuation. Just as we did a couple of weeks ago, everyone must vacate the building and the fire department has to clear the building before people can re-enter,” Taylor wrote. “I don’t believe the game had started but when everyone re-entered, they tracked water all over the gym and the custodians had to run the machines on the floor before they could start.”
Taylor described the scene when she showed up to survey after her cell phone got an automatic ping at 5:33 p.m.
“When I arrived after being notified by the alarm company of the pipe break, the custodian was riding the floor machine in the (middle school) gym, the driveway was full of fire trucks and the fire department was beginning to remove the water. The sprinkler company arrived to assess the leak and began to plan for repairs,” she wrote.
On Tuesday Taylor and other administrators were trying to reorganize and determine how much harm the water did to the offices, hallway and cafeteria.
“We are working to relocate the people in those areas while we assess the damage,” she wrote.
On Jan. 2, the first day of school after the holiday break, saw burst sprinkler pipes between the two sets of doors that provide the main southwest entrance to the school near the gym, and water flooded the hallway as far as the concession stand opposite the gym, the hallway and offices to the right, and much of the gym closest to the entrance.
On Jan. 11 when workers came to work on the main gym floor, they told school officials that damage was worse than previously guessed, and the gym will be mostly out of service through the end of February.
VUHS and Addison Northwest Athletics Director Peter Maneen said on Jan. 12 the water “soaked in under the floor” and caused more problems than expected.
Maneen said on that Friday morning that workers were still removing damaged flooring and inspecting the layers underneath to determine the extent of the problems.
VUHS will use its second, smaller gym for many physical education classes and practices, and all basketball games will take place there, although a school-wide email last week from Taylor said the east side of the main gym could also be used for some classes.
“Thankfully, we are fortunate to have two gyms,” Maneen said.
What gets complicated is finding room for the school’s four middle school basketball teams to practice on game days. Maneen said coaches will be holding morning practices and he has reached out to ANWSD elementary schools about the availability of their gyms.
“I’m working at redoing those practice schedules,” he said, while hoping he doesn’t have to cancel too many.
The entire gym floor will be sanded down and refinished, a task that Maneen said is at least tentatively scheduled for a break that is scheduled at the end of February.
Officials are also meeting with the school’s insurance company, although Maneen said he is not directly involved in those talks and it is too early to estimate costs.
Meanwhile he is also trying to work out how it will hold a Jan. 29 wrestling tournament in the gym, hopefully by placing mats down over damaged flooring, and also working out logistics for keeping the school’s Feb. 17 commitment to again bring statewide high school dance and cheerleading championships to Vergennes.
“We’re hoping to still be able to host those events,” Maneen said.
According to Taylor’s email last week if work “raises too much dust or in some other way becomes a hazard” school officials might have to rethink allowing access to the locker rooms.
Taylor also wrote the school has taken steps to prevent a repeat a recurrence of the event. 
“The ceiling in the foyer where the leak occurred has been fully insulated to prevent those pipes from freezing again,” she said.

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