Students attempting to make a quick pit stop or grab their mid-morning coffee from Food For Thought Cafe in the basement of the Smith Memorial Student Union yesterday arrived to an unpleasant surprise: All restrooms had been closed, and all food services were shut down for the day. Some hours later, the SMSU was locked to students and faculty from the first floor to the basement, with limited access to the second, third and fourth floors of the building. The reason? A broken City of Portland sewage pipe.
Students attempting to make a quick pit stop or grab their mid-morning coffee from Food For Thought Cafe in the basement of the Smith Memorial Student Union yesterday arrived to an unpleasant surprise: All restrooms had been closed, and all food services were shut down for the day.
Some hours later, the SMSU was locked to students and faculty from the first floor to the basement, with limited access to the second, third and fourth floors of the building. The reason? A broken City of Portland sewage pipe.
Facilities employee Richard Koontz noticed the problem Monday after responding to multiple reports of malfunctioning toilets in the SMSU building on campus. Soon after, sewage began to back up into the basement of the SMSU.
“I called the City of Portland around 11 a.m. on Monday to report the problem; they came [Wednesday] to dig up Broadway to get to the pipe,” said Koontz.
The pipe that runs under Broadway connects multiple PSU buildings to the city sewage system.
As digging commenced early Wednesday morning the crew realized the exact nature of the problem.
The pavement on Southwest Broadway was hiding a 10-foot deep sinkhole with a collapsed sewer pipe below. While the initial problem that triggered the collapse remains under investigation by the City of Portland, the ramifications of the cave-in are already evident. Handling the emergency has been a group effort from multiple companies, in addition to PSU Facilities.
“The sewer pipe that leaves to Broadway broke, and sewage backed up into Information Technology,” said Robert Wise, building manager of SMSU. “Now Dow Columbia is cleaning the carpet and sanitizing the basement.”
The collapsed pipe began causing problems for Portland State on Monday, forcing Wise to order all restrooms in the SMSU closed. As sewage continued backing up, both the basement and the ground floor were closed off, and water to the building was shut off on Wednesday.
PSU Facilities anticipates more problems from this broken pipe, such as spoiling food.
“The water was shut off except for the fire system, but the freezers and walk-ins for the food services are water-cooled,” explained Koontz.
“The Environmental Services Bureau is the owner of the pipe, and the group has contracted out to the Office of Transportation for the investigation and repairs,” said Cheryl E. Kuck, media relations for the Office of Transportation.
Dow Columbia, a disaster restoration company that has been serving the university for the last 10 years, worked through Wednesday to clean up the sewage spill.
“We are extracting the sewage and pulling up the carpet, then we will sanitize the basement,” said Wayne Lightburne, Dow Columbia director of sales and marketing. “We use A-33 cleaner, a general sanitizer that is safe for the environment.”
Lightburne predicted three or four hours of work to complete cleanup of the basement, at which point he said he expected it to be safe to restore water to SMSU.
Portland’s work crews surrounded the “big hole” Wednesday, reinforcing the walls with steel beams to prevent a cave-in while the workers dug to get to the remainder of the pipe.
Other workers pumped water and sewage from the manholes on either end of the block.
The City of Portland’s Office of Transportation said they plan to continue digging and pipe restoration until next Wednesday, Oct. 29. Two lanes on Southwest Broadway between Montgomery and Harrison will remained closed during that time, and parking and bike lanes will be closed completely until Oct. 29.
SMSU: What’s happening?Facilities issued a building closure notice shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday, stating they will release a building status update to students, faculty and staff Thursday morning via e-mail as to when they plan on re-opening the SMSU.
Facilities also advised that any employees working on the first or second floor of the student union contact their supervisors before reporting for work Thursday.