During last week’s downpour, a puddle appeared in first-year David Smith’s Second Court room. “The room is on the second floor and has been flooding ever since we moved in at the beginning of the year,” Smith said. “But it got worse with the heavy rains.”
Smith and his roommate Bennet Bastian had tried to fix the problem since the start of the fall semester to no avail. “At the beginning of the year I went down to the housing office and talked to the secretary, and she told us to keep reporting it,” Smith said. “The maintenance people went over it twice at the beginning of the year and thought it was coming from the porch. It’s weird because the puddle was on the opposite side of the room from the porch, so they thought it may have been leaking under the floor tiles.”
Physical Plant tried to fix the problem multiple times but didn’t manage water-proof the Second Court room before heavy rains hit.
“At this point, maintenance has been continuously looking for possible sources of the water and have taken a number of steps,” said Bob Mason, the Assistant Director of Physical Plant. “We caulked the door threshold, put cold patch on the roof on a few likely spots, caulked seams where the building joins the sidewalk, checked the door seals, checked the sliding glass door and basically done as much as possible for repairs.”
Even with all of these modifications, water still seeped in.
“Things still got worse and worse,” Smith said. “A few weeks ago, the maintenance people were here every day for a week trying something new each time. Finally we got a really serious rain, and a third of the room flooded. Water was everywhere. My bed and desk were up against one wall, and the entire side of the room was underwater. We had moved all of our electronics off the floor, but some of my clothes got wet and a few of my books were damaged. But overall we managed to keep things pretty dry.” Though Physical Plant continued working to correct the problem, Smith and Bastian decided it was time to move out.
“It was surprisingly easy to get moved out when I specifically asked for it,” Smith said. “I basically said, ‘Look, I need a new room,’ and got directed to an RD. She said it was no problem, handed me a new key and said that she’d get me all set up on Monday.”
Smith began moving his things to his new room, an RA dorm overlooking the tennis courts. He’s been forced to move things slowly because of a shoulder injury, but plans on finishing soon.
Ken Perlowski, Director of Facilities Planning and Construction, is still working to fix the problem alongside Physical Plant.
“The room faces a deep patio area and the angle of the slope is wrong,” Perlowski said. “We’ve tried to fix it but we’re not sure it’s possible without making some major structural changes.”
The flooded dorm room isn’t a new problem. Similar leaks have been occurring since I.M. Pei designed the residence halls in the late 1960’s. “There’s one or two rooms in each court with this problem,” Perlowski said. “It’s inherited in the design.”
It appears that I.M. Pei, the architect behind the design of the dorms, may have underestimated the ferocity of Florida rain storms. In a 1964 article by Ed Hasse, Pei commented on his perception of the Florida’s sunny disposition. “Here we are blessed with a very wonderful climate, with relatively little change,” he said. “I think it isn’t an accident that many of the great schools, the big universities, are where there are changes in weather, where there are extremes. The question is: Can man create an environment, against nature, for learning?” Decades later, it looks as though Pei’s dorms are meeting their challenge against nature head on.
Mason agrees that the problem lies in the design and age of the Pei dorms. “Older buildings tend to be problematic with various sources of water paths due to worn roofs, building shell, caulk joints, flashing, et cetera,” Mason said.
This doesn’t mean that they’ve given up on the problem. The efforts to re-route the water flow are ongoing.
“Any driving rain similar to what occurred will reveal the building’s weaknesses,” he said. “Moving forward, maintenance will continue looking during rain storms to find the sources of the water.”