Tacoma's newest showcase building - the Center for Urban Waters - sprang a leak Thursday.
And it was far from the only one.
Tacoma Fire officials didn’t have figures, but Battalion 2 Chief Ben Flesher said anecdotally he knew department crews were busy Thursday responding around the city to calls of broken pipes.
Tacoma area emergency dispatchers were heard on radio scanners sending crews out to reports of leaks at homes, businesses and churches throughout the day.
This week’s frigid weather across Puget Sound caused water to freeze in some pipes. That can bring about cracks or breaks that won’t be known until temperatures climb and the water inside thaws.
At the Center for Urban Waters, water flowed through the ceiling from a broken pipe near the roof, flooding portions of laboratory spaces Thursday.
Long into Thanksgiving afternoon, crews assessed damage and mopped up in laboratories and other spaces on three floors of the building on the east side of the Thea Foss Waterway.
Across the channel at 1515 Dock St., there were leaky pipe problems at Esplanade Tacoma, a new nine-story condominium building. Water seeped from the seventh floor all the way to the first, according to tenants and cleanup crews, though few details were available.
Workers pulled up carpet and padding and carried it out of the building.
Crews from Superior Cleaning & Restoration packed up their tools about 4 p.m.
No information was available Thursday evening on what caused the leaks at either building and whether they were related to this week’s snowstorm and subsequent deep freeze.
Crews were assessing the situation at the Center for Urban Waters, a representative of property management company GVA Kidder Mathews said. A call from The News Tribune to a management number for the Esplanade was not returned.
The 51,000-square-foot Urban Waters structure opened last spring. Its construction and financing cost totaled $38 million and it was built to exacting environmental standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
It’s home to the science and engineering laboratories of the City of Tacoma’s Public Works Department, which assesses the health of the waterway and works on cleanup.
The Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency also focused on the health of Puget Sound; and University of Washington Tacoma marine research center also lease space from building owner Lorig Associates of Seattle.
There was no estimate of damages to the building or its contents Thursday, but some of the labs contain pieces of scientific equipment that can individually run into six figures.
As soon as fire crews arrived, they began “moving high-value equipment” away from dripping areas, Flesher said. About 13 firefighters on three ladder trucks and an engine company responded to the call for help, he added.
The leak might not have been detected as soon as it was if not for an employee who entered the building on Thanksgiving Day to pick up a personal item, said Geoffrey Smyth, the city’s division manager for Environmental Services.
The employee “noticed a massive leak” and called it in, Smyth said.
Water apparently began flowing from a pipe between the third floor and the roof, cascading into the city’s Metals Prep/Analysis lab in Room 327.
It also made its way into the city’s Organics Prep/Extraction lab in Room 230 and Semi-Volatiles Analysis space in Room 231 on the second floor and below that into locker and storage spaces on the first floor.
Even after the water was shut off, there was a steady drip-drip-drip through holes in the ceiling into carefully positioned trash and garbage cans to catch it. In one lab, crumbling ceiling tiles lay on a work space. In another, the ceiling tiles were so bowed with water it appeared they would break through at any moment.
Desks and work tables, computers and lab equipment was pushed against a window in the Semi-Volatiles Analysis lab. There were similar scenes in other spaces.
Water was 1 inch to 11/2 inch deep in some areas when Smyth arrived, he said.
The flow appeared to go straight down through the floors, and though it seeped out of labs and onto some carpeted office space, the damage appeared limited to one swath through the building.
The building’s electrical systems, computer servers and phone systems all appeared to be OK, Smyth said.
Though today was to be a day off for city staff members, many workers will be in the building to assess and catalog damage to equipment and begin their part of the cleanup process, he added.
Thursday afternoon, custodians from ServiceMaster and crews from a water damage restoration contractor were trading turkey for tools and settling into work.
Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659 firstname.lastname@example.org