Flooding, related issues force closure of Sci-Tech building ‘for many months’

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WATERTOWN — Building issues for the Sci-Tech Center on Stone Street have gone from bad to worse, forcing the closure of the building for “many months.”

On Jan. 5, Sci-Tech Executive Director Stephen A. Karon discovered up to 3 feet of water that filled the building’s basement. That issue followed a problem in October when it was discovered some concrete pieces on a sidewalk in front of the building fell from a lintel above a window. A lintel is a beam placed across the openings windows and doors. Barriers were placed in front of the building, but it was allowed to stay open.

But with the flooding and related issues, the city has condemned the building.

As a totally volunteer organization, Sci-Tech’s building is only open a few days each week, during regular museum hours, during scheduled classes and programs, and at other times for reserved school groups. Mr. Karon draws no salary as the volunteer Sci-Tech director.

In a news release, Mr. Karon explained how the flooding happened. Apparently, at some point during the previous 24 hours before Jan. 5 while the building was unoccupied, a valve on the fire suppression system burst. This allowed about a 1-inch stream of high pressure water to infiltrate the building’s basement. The valve was one of two just inside the basement wall, where the 4-inch pipe enters the building.

Mr. Karon said the reason for the break is not known, and added that the fire suppression system had undergone its annual inspection less than two months earlier.

“The Watertown Fire Department responded quickly, and immediately began pumping water out of the basement,” he said.

After almost four hours of pumping, the water at the high end of the basement was down to less than 4 inches – the minimum that could be achieved with their high pressure pump. (The basement slopes from north to south about 12 inches because of its original French drain system.)

As the city fire department packed up its equipment, it was expected that the remaining water would slowly evacuate through the existing basement sump at the base of the French drain. Mr. Karon explained the basement sump is not a pumped sump, just a cavity through which water slowly seeps into the ground.

However, by the next morning, water had only receded about 1 inch – the sump had been overwhelmed by the flood.

“With a call to the fire department, they again quickly responded with a different pump,” Mr. Karon said. “Although much slower than the pump used the previous day, it could be lowered into the sump, and removed the remaining water in about 5 hours.”

Mr. Karon said the Watertown Fire Department “needs to be applauded” for its efforts.

“And especially the firefighters at the Massey Street Station, not just for their rapid response, but for their incredible professionalism throughout Sci-Tech’s ordeal,” Mr. Karon said. “They were constantly providing advice and suggestions which helped us to mitigate the damage to Sci-Tech and its contents.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Karon said, the basement is Sci-Tech’s primary storage area, as well as the location for numerous building systems. Thus, not only were the heating system, electrical system, and phone/internet system damaged, but hundreds of artifacts, records, exhibit components, materials and supplies were also damaged or destroyed.

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