The University of Utah is facing costly repairs after corroded pipes in its century-old life sciences building failed three weeks ago, sending hot water into classrooms and shutting down part of the facility.
University officials say the latest breach is a symptom of a larger problem.
Kim Wirthlin, university vice president for governmental affairs, said the school has systems — wires, pipes, shafts, generators and more — built decades ago, but has lacked the resources to maintain them.
"They are worn out, they are breaking more frequently, and the breakages are getting more expensive to fix," she said.
According to Wirthlin, the school needs $120 million to replace an electrical distribution system that serves about 300 buildings, and another $30 million to replace seven miles of hot water lines.
The half-dozen biology faculty members conducting federally funded research in the life sciences building experience regular disruptions because of errant water.
"We've been dealing with this for six years since we moved in here," said Matt Curtiss, who manages Markus Babst's third-floor lab, where his team studies basic cell biology on yeast.
A domestic water break four years ago filled the lab with 3 inches of water and damaged $50,000 in electronic equipment.
"Our equipment is tremendously expensive. Having it at risk is ridiculous," said Curtiss, gesturing toward a ceiling-mounted plastic shield intended to divert dripping water.
The life sciences building is threaded with old heating pipes that feed off an underground network of hot-water lines. When the pipes fail, scalding water can spray, resulting in significant damage and safety issues.
So officials have closed four classrooms on the ground floor at least through the spring semester, while keeping open research laboratories on the upper floors.
"When you lose these classrooms, students from across campus are affected," said biology department chairman Neil Vickers.
— Associated Press