Taylor Gym closed last week because of a sanitary sewer leak and sections of the gym will remain sealed off until further notice.
Gary Falasca, the director of custodial, grounds and athletic buildings for Facilities Services, said the sanitary sewer manhole to the south of the main entrance overflowed around noon on Sept. 2.
Falasca said a local plumber was called to the scene to open up the blocked line. After several failed attempts, a second company was called and a truck was used to remove water out of manholes to visibly assess the situation.
The plumbers were able to identify a number of root balls, or tree roots that grow in sewers, blocking the flow of sewage water.
“What happens with old sewers is that any crack or crevasse will attract roots which look for water and start to grow inside the sewer line,” Falasca said. “Over time, as roots get bigger, they start to block the flow.”
The plumbers removed the roots and opened the line back up. While the manhole was overflowing, it saturated the soil that is part of the foundation for Taylor Gym, and water started to leak into the fitness center.
Falasca said about half an inch of gray water flooded the floor of the lower level of the gym.
“Because it is contaminated water, the cleanup isn’t as if your faucet breaks and water goes everywhere,” Falasca said.
He said the damage was significant and the Department of Environmental Health and Safety will assess the degree of contamination. The area must remain closed in the meantime.
The department’s findings will guide Facilities Services in determining what they need to remove and replace.
Douglas Strange, the assistant athletic director, said regardless of Health and Safety’s findings, the gym floor needs to be removed.
“It was evident that most of the damage was underneath by the sight and smell,” Strange said.
The current plan of action is to start moving the machinery all to one area, so the floor can be removed as fast as possible. Once the floor is torn up, it will need to be sanitized and resurfaced.
Most machines were not ruined. However, lighter equipment, such as mats, plyometric boxes and anything that was sitting in water, might need to be replaced.
“There wasn’t much impact to the actual equipment that was there because the water didn’t get deep enough,” Falasca said. “The problem is there is so much equipment down there, moving it out of the way so they can get the floor removed will be a chore in itself.”
Strange said repaving and remediation will be the “biggest players.” He said the process will take a while, and he doesn’t have a timetable for it yet.
Strange plans to relocate some machinery to stay on concrete while they order new products. This process could take six to eight weeks.
“As soon as we are allowed to be on that sealed floor, it will take us no time to set up,” Strange said. “I guarantee that.”
However, some people are eager for the bottom floor to reopen.
“I’ve already got people contacting me saying that we should be buying them gym memberships,” Strange said. “It is a little concerning that it is that self-centered based on the community at large. We are all trying to live through it.”
Paola Lopez, ’20, is a Lehigh student who works at the front desk of Taylor Gym.
“Every time someone comes here, they ask us when it is going to be open and if we know what is going on,” Lopez said. “Sometimes they even blame us.”
She said some students come to the gym, and when they find out the lower level isn’t open, they leave.
Besides the direct impact of students unable to use the lower facilities, the closure of the lower level has affected sports teams, like rowing and cross country. These teams use the area for indoor training.
Strange said the flooding has affected the Lehigh community, but his team will be working hard to resolve this issue.
“You know, this isn’t Texas,” Strange said. “We’re not under four feet of water, so this is really a minor thing. But we have to do it the right way.”