Broken sprinkler system closes building

Officers earlier thought leak was from a broken sewer line in building.

A broken sprinkler system is said to have caused an evacuation of the Art and Journalism Building twice Tuesday evening and prompted officials to close the building for the rest of the night.

The first evacuation occurred at about 9 p.m., when the sprinkler first broke and set off the fire alarm, according to Jim Salmon, a plumber at Ball State.

By coincidence, however, a sewer line between the AJ building and the Applied Technology Building backed up at around 7:30 p.m. Because of the clogged sewer, officers initially thought the leak could have been sewage backing up from the clogged line. Their fears escalated when they smelled what they said could have been methane gas.

Not knowing what the leak was, and unable to identify the smell, the officers once again evacuated the building - less than a minute after allowing students back in.

Officers and Jill DeMuth, safety specialist for the Office of Facilities and Planning Management, could only offer speculation until a plumber arrived.

It wasn't until about 10:30 p.m. that Ball State plumber Kelly Cleveland informed the congregated police and firemen that she thought the problem was the broken sprinkler system. Cleveland said it was not related to the sewer line, which was unclogged soon afterward.

The supposed methane gas, Cleveland said, was just the smell sprinkler water emanates.

The leak occurred in the annealing room, a small closet adjacent to the foundry on the first floor of the AJ building.

"It just happened," said art professor Pat Nelson, who was teaching a class when the alarm went off. "There was no warning. We didn't know what it was."

The first plumber arrived at about 10 p.m. Cleveland arrived shortly after. By the time the leak was turned off, most of the floor of the large foundry room had been covered by water.

According to Salmon, the room needs to be cleaned and the system fixed by the contractor until the building can be reopened. At presstime, no one could give a time when it would be completed, though officers and Salmon said it could be a couple hours.

The only ones allowed back in the building were the custodial staff and members of the Daily News, leaving many left behind. During the ordeal, several students asked if they could get in to finish their homework, and workers in the Atrium were not able to finish their cleaning for the next day.

According to Joe Sypheus, who works for the city of Muncie, the sewer was probably clogged because of grease buildup. At one point, while Sypheus was clearing out the sewer, a chunk about a foot long of what Sypheus said was grease floated by.


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