(Photos by Victor Tangermann. More here.)
On Thursday evening, water began streaming out of the McTavish Reservoir on Docteur-Penfield, above McGill’s lower campus. Water from the reservoir flooded McTavish and affected parts of campus bordering the street.
The reservoir holds 37 million gallons of water and is owned by the City of Montreal. According to building personnel, the flood was caused by a pipe bursting.
McGill Security, Montreal police, and firefighters sealed off the area by blocking traffic at various points around it: at the intersections of Docteur-Penfield and Peel, McTavish and Sherbrooke, and the Roddick gates.
Wallace Sealy, SSMU security supervisor, stood at the top of McTavish to direct people away from the street. He said he has never seen anything like the flood in the six years he has worked at McGill.
The flow was largely restricted to McTavish, leading to minor erosion of asphalt along with the “experimental piercings” of grass on the street.
McTavish was roped off by McGill security until 9 p.m. Thursday night as emergency services and University employees worked to remove water and prevent accumulated moisture within affected buildings.
Jim Nicell, Associate Vice-Principal (University Affairs), said that water infiltration was the cause of most flood-related damages on campus. The key buildings impacted by the flood were the Student Service Point, the McLennan-Redpath library complex, and Wilson Hall.
“We thought there’d be extensive damage given the sheer volume of the flow but…the reports came back [of] surprisingly little damage, with the exception being Wilson Hall,” Nicell said.
Wilson Hall houses the McGill School’s of Nursing and the School of Social Work. Nicell said that the building has a notorious reputation for flooding and, as a result, there were not many materials being stored in the basement areas, which were subject to flooding.
“With Wilson Hall, we felt that there was a potential danger, so we shut down the [electrical] systems,” he said.
The building was closed without electricity until 2:30 p.m. on Friday and classes were moved to other locations. The building was still in the process of being dried out on Friday afternoon. Nicell said that the cost of the damage to Wilson Hall was unclear and remedial cleaning work still needed to be done.
Nicell said the first step of the University’s Emergency Management Plan was to bring in key people such as electricians, McGill security services and employees of Facilities, Operations, and Development services. He said that custodians, many of whom were working the night shift on Thursday, were mobilized to assist with water removal in the buildings affected by the flood.
McGill Building Services’ on-call supervisor, Michel Ducharme, said that employees have basic training to handle emergencies such as a flood. However, he explained that Building Service employees are not specialized emergency workers.
“In major or very specific situations where the safety of the employees could be an issue…we call a private company outside to come on campus – normally we call Rosco,” he said.
The Rosco Group specializes in disaster recovery. Their operations include disaster restoration and cleaning, document restoration, construction, and renovation and water damage recovery.
Rosco arrived on Thursday night and continued working on campus throughout the day on Friday.
The McLennan-Redpath library complex also experienced flooding at the basement level and was evacuated an hour after the flood began on McTavish.
“Some paper items were waterlogged [and] subjected to some of the flow that actually came in more from the ceiling and downward,” Nicell said, noting that library personnel had to move materials from the basement very quickly as the flooding occurred.
Sheehan Moore, a McGill student and former Daily editor, was in the library and witnessed the flooding.
“If you listen at the emergency exit [by the emergency staircase on the first floor of McLennan] you can hear water pouring in,” he said on Thursday. Moore witnessed a special collections librarian running upstairs. “She was completely soaked,” he said.
According to Colleen Cook, the Trenholme Dean of Libraries, there is a library disaster plan for emergencies such as Thursday’s flood. She and her colleagues were at McGill late Thursday night working to handle the aftermath of the flood.
“You have to take action within certain time frames and all of that happened beautifully,” she said.
The soaked books will be freeze-dried, which, according to Cook, is one of the most effective methods of drying documents.
“If you can get materials into a freeze dry then the recovery of virtually all, if not most, of the materials is practically assured,” she said.
Cook said that the books that were damaged in the flood were “eclectic” and did not have large value within the library’s collection. She noted that some materials were digitized and would not need to be replaced.
Nicell said that he expected the materials in the library to be fully restored.
Service Point, at the base of McTavish, was another key building that experienced flooding. The building was flooded by a few inches on Thursday, however, it re-opened Friday morning and was fully functional. Nicell noted that lasting effects might include damage to hardwood floors that could buckle over time.
He said that it was too premature to begin estimating costs from the damages or if the City would be held responsible. McGill will meet with City officials and insurers will have to assess buildings.
Ducharme said that any flood damage to buildings under the purview of Building Services would be covered under McGill’s insurance plan.