Low water pressure at LSU and flooding in the main library at Southern University, both prompted by recent cold weather, continued to bedevil the Baton Rouge college campuses Friday.
LSU issued a public alert Thursday that its water pressure had dropped to levels too low to safely reopen school Friday, leading the university to decide to stay closed for a third straight day. At 5 p.m. Friday, school officials announced that matters had improved enough to reopen Saturday and they are anticipating being open Monday as well.
LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said Friday night that the university normally enjoys water pressure of about 60 pounds-per-square inch, or PSI. But when school staff on Thursday measured the PSI at the water intake point — where the Baton Rouge Water Company water comes into the university system — it was only 31 PSI, he said. The minimum threshold for safe operations at LSU is 45 PSI, he said. When the PSI climbed above 45 on Friday, that was the trigger for the decision to reopen Saturday.
“We exceeded the minimum threshold for a sustained period, giving us the confidence that we could operate all systems,” Ballard said.
LSU sent out an alert Thursday evening telling people the university will make a decision later tonight on whether to open Friday due to "conc…
Hays Owen, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of the Baton Rouge Water Company, denied the company was having any pressure problems: “All is well here and our system is operating with pressures that are normal,” Owen said Thursday.
On Friday afternoon, Owen reaffirmed that statement: “All of our systems are fine."
Owen noted that the water company brings water to its meters at the edge of the LSU campus, but the university maintains all the infrastructure beyond the meters and within the sprawling campus, Owen said.
“They have their own water system of pipes and pumps,” Owen said.
Ballard, however, said LSU staff “watches our gauges continually” where the water arrives at the university, and the low pressure readings at those gauges prompted concerns. He said he's not aware of any major internal pipe issues.
The Advocate left messages Friday night with Owen seeking a response to Ballard’s statements. Owen responded with a terse email saying it was hard to comment. He noted that there are least four Baton Rouge Water meters surrounding LSU, but he’s “not sure where (how far into their system they gauged) or how.” Owen did not respond to follow-up emails and voicemails by press time.
Wade Smith, headmaster of LSU Lab School, which is located on the LSU campus, said the K-12 school as well as its early learning center appeared to make it through the weather unscathed.
“I have walked the campus again this morning. We were good. We didn’t have any busted pipes or anything,” Smith said. “With the weather moderating, we’re looking forward to getting back into a regular routine.”
Smith said “LSU is not fond of closing,” and so he’s sure that the water pressure issue must have been significant. The chance of safety issues stemming from low water pressure are not trivial, he said.
“God forbid that would be the one day you’d have a fire,” Smith said.
Southern University managed to reopen for classes Friday, but its main library, the John B. Cade Library, remained shuttered after a pipe on the fourth floor of its west wing burst Thursday morning and damaged that floor and the floors below.
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Emma Bradford Perry, dean of libraries, arrived shortly after noon to see water still gushing from above. It was a horrifying sight.
“It was just pouring down,” she said. “It was coming through the ceiling tiles.”
The library has 1 million print volumes in its collection, and Perry said she feared the worst but many books, including the library’s special collection, were spared.
“We did lose some of our books, but we won’t lose as many as I thought because of the way the water came down and the way the water flowed,” she said.
Southern's custodial and maintenance staff and the private Baton Rouge company, Guarantee Restoration Services, continued working late Friday cleaning up, and they were expecting to have removed all standing water from the 34-year-old building by the end of the day.
Jasmine Hunter, a spokeswoman for Southern University, said Guarantee is anticipating two more weeks of work drying the flooded areas, as well as removing damaged carpet and Sheetrock. The air quality of the library is also being tested by a third party, Hunter said.
“Our next stop is going to be surveying bookcases and electronics,” she said.
To maintain services, Southern is setting up a “quick reference library section,” with a librarian present in a student center located on the first floor of the library, which is adjacent to Harris Hall. Hunter said the main library entrance will be closed, but a separate door will allow students to use the student center in the library.
Students will continue to have access to labs and copiers in the student union, the law school library as well as T.T. Allain Hall. Perry said that none of the electronic collection was affected since it’s all housed remotely, and students can still access it remotely.
“I’m going to be optimistic,” Perry said. “We will continue to provide the best service we can provide.”