ALMA — Faulty installation of a water meter at Charles B. Dyer Arena on the Alma High School campus on Friday resulted in the release of 32,700 gallons of water into the arena on Sunday, leaving the court submerged under approximately four inches of water.
ServiceMaster cleanup crews were called to the area soon after the leak was discovered, which was about one hour after it started.
An Alma student was in the gym shooting baskets until 3 p.m. When they left everything was fine. But when girls basketball coach Cody Mann showed up an hour later he discovered the flooding and called school maintenance officials.
“The city of Alma is in the process of upgrading their water meters all throughout their system and the water meter for this portion of the high school campus is actually in that storeroom right over there,” Alma Superintendent Dr. David Woolly said as he pointed toward the northeast corner of the promenade area that encircles the arena above the court. “That’s not uncommon in big (buildings) for the meter to be inside the building. But they changed out that meter Friday afternoon and Sunday afternoon it came apart. Fortunately, within no more than an hour or so one of our coaches came in discovered it. If it had run until this morning … .”
Alma Public Works Director Mark Yardley said the city has purchased the new meters through Ferguson Water Works who, in turn, had contracted with Advanced Utility Services out of Little Rock to install the meters. AUS has two different crews installing the meters, one installing the residential meters and a speciality crew putting in the three- and four-inch meters for bigger locations like the high school.
Yardley said installers have to insert one piece of the line into a flange, which creates a seal. That flange has to then be tightened down onto the line by lugs, which keep the line from sliding out of the flange.
“The lugs were not tightened up on the flange and (the installers) just missed it,” he said. “Over the weekend it started sliding apart a little at a time because there’s pressure on it. We can see it on our system where there was no flow until Sunday.”
Woolley said when he arrived at the arena Sunday evening school maintenance personnel had gotten the water shut off, but it was still running from the promenade area over the edge and onto the court.
“It looked like Niagara Falls,” he said.
“There’s nowhere for that water to go except into the arena,” said Yardley. “There’s some floor drains in that room, but they’re only made for small amounts of water to go down. You open a three-inch, full flow pipe and those drains couldn’t even take that on. So it had nowhere to go but out the door, across that rubberized floor, then over the edge onto the arena floor.”
Woolly said every classroom located under the bleachers was affected by the deluge, some more than others.
“All these classrooms underneath the stands, every room all the way around has got some water damage,” he said. “Some of it is insignificant — no big deal — but some of these classrooms right under (the store room) are destroyed. Everything about those classrooms — floor, ceiling, books, bookcases, everything — will have to be replaced.”
ServiceMaster has been on the scene since Sunday evening and was delivering more equipment on Monday, including a tent system that will cover the court, drying not only the actual hardwood, but the layer of water that has seeped between the wood and concrete floor under the court.
“Sitting on the concrete are about 10,000 rubber springs in neoprene pads and then the court,” Woolly explained. “It creates a cavity that’s full of water right now.”
While he expected the rooms around the bottom floor of the arena to be cleaned up and ready for the first day of the approaching school year, the court is still in wait-and-see status.
“I think we’ll have the academic spaces and the athletic support spaces (ready),” he said. “Unless there’s something we don’t know right now, I think those will easily be good to go by the beginning of school. The court we can’t determine right now. ServiceMaster is on the scene and they’ve got some big-time equipment. They think they can dry the court out and salvage it where all it would have to be is sanded and refinished. We’ll see whether that’s true or not. If that’s true we’re talking about maybe a month. If it has to be replaced we’re talking about several months. We just don’t know right now.”
ServiceMaster is also bringing in someone from Las Vegas who has a background in situations like this involving water-damaged courts. Woolly said they should know by Thursday if the court will be useable by the first of the school year.
“Even if we have to replace the court, having it done by the actual start of basketball season would be tight,” he said. “It would be close. It depends on getting the material, getting the lumber in, the schedule of the installation company, all those kinds of things. If we have to play volleyball or basketball other than here it will be in Crabtree (Gymnasium).”
He added, “At the very least after the court has dried out it will have to be sanded down and refinished. That’s the best case.”
Yardley said on Sunday the city made its crews available to the school district.
“We’ve made ourselves available and have told (the district) we’ll do anything we can do,” he said. “I brought all our guys in to help with cleanup, but David decided with ServiceMaster there they were going to be paid to do that and they are the professionals … he sent all his people home and told me just to send my people home, too, so we did.”
Yardley said city officials are “very, very sorry that this happened,” adding, “This was certainly not intended by us or the installer, either. They didn’t mean to do this. As I understand it the city’s not financially liable for any of this, but we’re certainly politically, personally and socially responsible for all of it. Whether it costs us financially is not the point. This is a scar on the city’s face and you can’t deny that. And I regret that.”