Mess in Maple: Pipes burst from heating system

By Kristin LaFratta

This article is part two in a series addressing student reactions to the Commonwealth Honors Complex.

Residents of Maple Hall, a new building in the Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community, recently experienced extensive water leaks from pipes linked to the building’s faulty heating system.

James Jesson

Around mid-afternoon on Sept. 22, students on several floors of the five-story building found damages to their suites and apartments, ranging from cracked walls and ceilings to fully flooded floors and hallways.

Second-floor Maple resident Allie Capprini said that the heavy leak flooded her whole suite, the hallway and two apartments down the hall. UMass paid to house Capprini and her suitemates for four nights in the UMass Hotel, and afterward offered to relocate them to an off-campus hotel, at which point they chose to stay with friends instead.

“They were pretty unorganized about it and did not have a plan immediately, so it was inconvenient for us to have to sit around and wait while they figured out somewhere for us to stay for the week,” Capprini said. “UMass did not tell us why the pipe burst or how it happened. They just explained to us that there was nothing dangerous in the water,” she said.

Several items were damaged in their suite, and they were required to fill out a file stating each damaged item and its worth. Capprini said that UMass told them they will “hopefully be reimbursed by the end of the semester.”

On the fourth floor, Maple resident Nelson Tull came back to his suite that Sunday evening to find maintenance workers in his room. The next morning, he woke up to different men coming into his room to paint and plaster the water-damaged walls.

“The maintenance crew didn’t know much more than I did. I was surprised because I did not expect them to be coming in all the next day,” Tull said. “I only heard a few details from my suitemates, and nothing from any administrators.”

The next morning on the first floor, Maple residents Taylor Doherty and Alaina Reinhardt noticed a crack along their ceiling and wall.

“We took turns staying in the room and calling emergency maintenance,” Doherty said. “Luckily they came pretty quickly.” The maintenance workers moved the furniture, exposing puddles behind their wardrobes.

Workers came for two days, cutting out wall panels and working on pipes, though the sanding and repainting took over a week, Doherty said. She added that the process was an inconvenience.

“They would come when we were sleeping or not in the room, and the fans were pretty loud,” she said, though she added that the maintenance workers were helpful. The workers told the girls that they were lucky to catch it early, and that the problem could have been worse.

UMass spokesman Patrick Callahan compared the opening of the new complex to a “shakedown cruise.”

“You put on the heat, and you put on the air conditioning. You find out what works and what doesn’t,” Callahan said. “And the stuff that doesn’t work, they fix it.” He said the subcontractors who set up the heating system are held responsible for fixing the problem, which they did.

“But that’s the way it is with all new construction,” Callahan added.

CHCRC is the only living area that uses a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. Unlike the hot water and steam heating systems of older residential areas, the HVAC system automatically detects whether rooms need to be heated or cooled.

Students’ reactions to the leaks varied from confused and nervous to annoyed and angry.

Reinhardt said that she felt uneasy once her room had been affected by the leaks.

“I heard a sound like rain in the pipes above me,” she said. “I was afraid to fall asleep in case the pipe in the ceiling burst.”

Tull said administrators handled the situation poorly.

“It is one of the many inconveniences of these new buildings,” he said.

A CHCRC residential assistant, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid jeopardizing her job, said she was advised to purchase renter’s insurance. She was quick to criticize the malfunctioning of the complex.

“It’s really frustrating that this is a new complex, and it should have been able to be built perfect, with all the resources and all the money they put into it,” she said.

Kristin LaFratta can be reached at [email protected]