WATERTOWN — Building issues at 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 of 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 unclear, 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. 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.
“Some of the damage is easily apparent, but some will not be fully known until much later,” Mr. Karon said. “For example, the high efficiency boiler was partly underwater, but until electricity can be restored, the extent of damage to it will remain unknown.”
But the most devastating mechanical problem is the building’s electrical system. An electrical inspection determined that its entire switchgear needs to be replaced.
“The electrical inspector indicated that National Grid will not reconnect our existing equipment to the downtown micro-grid. Not only will restoration of power be an expensive proposition, but a slow one as well,” Mr. Karon said. “Much of the necessary equipment is tied up in supply chain delays.”
Although the highest water was about 3 feet deep, high humidity affected materials stored on higher shelves as well. Stored exhibits, exhibits in preparation, replacement materials for exhibits, supplies for outreach programs, computers, equipment and records were damaged or destroyed.
Luckily, all Sci-Tech’s telescopes were stored with their mirrors above the level that water reached and were not damaged.
Since the water was removed, Sci-Tech has been taking steps to minimize any additional damage to its materials, moving artifacts to drying locations, removing sources of continuing high humidity and mold growth and rescuing materials that were inundated. Volunteers have inspected, moved and dried numerous objects, have disposed of hundreds of pounds of soggy cardboard, damaged materials, delaminated signs and have prepared for the continuation of Sci-Tech’s outreach programs.
As there is no heat in the building, volunteers have winterized the building to protect its mechanical systems from additional damage. The sprinkler system and heating system have been drained and the plumbing system has also been drained and protected with antifreeze.
“Unfortunately, all indications point to the Sci-Tech building being out-of-service for many months — exactly how long will not be known until we have a better understanding of the delays in the equipment supply and re-connection challenges with the electrical system,” Mr. Karon said. “Since the beginning, Sci-Tech has been working with the City Code Enforcement office, electrical inspectors and local contractors, and appreciates all of their help, advice and assistance.”
During the temporary closure of Sci-Tech’s museum, Mr. Karon said another challenge is funding.
“Not just to reopen the building, since insurance will not cover everything, but the funds to maintain the day-to-day operation,” Mr. Karon said. “With the building closed, sources of earned income such as admission fees, membership fees, most program fees and gift shop sales have vanished.”
A GoFundMe account has been created to help Sci-Tech and can be found at wdt.me/scitech.
Its goal is $25,000. Donations may also be made directly to Sci-Tech Center, 154 Stone St., Watertown, NY, 13601.
“Additionally, with the museum out of service, Sci-Tech is looking for a temporary location where some of its hands-on exhibits can be set up to maintain public visibility of the organization,” Mr. Karon said. “It’s hoped that a local business or organization will be able to donate the use of such a space for a temporary display, lasting at least a few months.”
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