Special Fund to Assist $2 Million Cost of Campus Recovery

Post a Comment » Written on November 4th, 2008     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (November 4, 2008) – A special fund has been established to allow Covenanters and other supporters of North Park University to donate towards the estimated $2 million cost of repairs and rehabilitation following flooding September 13 and 14 that devastated portions of the campus.

Particularly hard hit were the mechanical systems housed in the lower level of the Magnuson Campus Center that were destroyed or seriously damaged by floodwaters that covered many blocks surrounding the campus. Magnuson is situated near the north branch of the Chicago River, which meanders through the campus. Also affected were Anderson and Burgh Halls, where some 400 students had to be evacuated as water covered electrical transformers under Anderson Hall supplying power to those buildings, creating “short-out” risks.

Flood“This was unprecedented,” notes Carl Balsam, executive vice president.  “Drainage from the communities north of Chicago . . . joined with the relentless rain and quickly swelled the north branch of the Chicago River until the Army Corps pilings along the banks were breached.”

Students were relocated without incident, staying with other residents in other facilities, going home to friends’ homes or sleeping in the Helwig Recreation Center, a backup location that had been identified as part of an emergency response drill. Installation of an emergency generator allowed students to return after two days.

The damage at Magnuson was more extensive, however. “The breach of the river piling brought water over the top of a rear stair enclosure that provides outside access to the basement mechanical room,” Balsam says. The stairwell houses large rigid air intake grills that allow outside air to feed the air handlers for the building. “The water was sucked into the basement through those grills and essentially filled the basement (floor to ceiling), knocking out all electrical and gas utilities and associated equipment to the building,” Balsam adds.

The loss of the use of Magnuson required a number of functions to be relocated: classrooms, offices and, most significantly, the dining hall and kitchen functions. One of the larger tasks was feeding 600 students on the meal plan – cooking facilities serving the entire campus are located in Magnuson. ARAMARK, the school’s food service provider, quickly shifted cooking operations to Northwestern University in Evanston, which the firm also services, with meals trucked to the North Park campus using insulated containers. Hamming Hall was pressed into service as a temporary dining center.

Life returned to some sense of normalcy – at least from the students’ perspective – on October 20 as food services resumed out of Magnuson.

Stairwell“Our first goal, obviously, was to make sure the student needs of housing and meals were addressed and that classrooms were relocated adequately to allow the semester to proceed,” Balsam recalls. “Therefore, a lot of our early recovery work was aimed at developing temporary systems to allow students’ lives to appear somewhat normal while we assessed the . . . substantial damage to our utility systems, a recovery process that will take much longer to implement.”

The flooding destroyed virtually every piece of mechanical and electrical equipment in the basement of Magnuson Campus Center, Balsam says. In replacing the equipment, however, certain City of Chicago codes mandate that the restoration include updating various pieces of equipment to current code, he points out, including elevator equipment, electrical and ventilation systems. “Much of the equipment was nearing end-of-life and would be difficult to rebuild in any case,” he adds.

Old, damaged equipment has been removed, the utility basement has been cleaned and sanitized, insulation has been removed from pipes, and all contaminated ductwork has been removed. New electrical systems are being designed and ordered.

“The challenge is obvious,” Balsam says in reference to the cost of the recovery work, which he says will extend months into the future, not weeks. And given the below-grade location of the mechanical equipment and the proximity to the river, insurance coverage is expensive and typically limited, resulting in a significant portion of the loss that was not included in the school’s insurance coverage. Given the insurance situation, the $2 million in expense (both short-term actions and long-term recovery) represents a huge challenge – there obviously was no way to provide for such contingencies in an operating budget.

Bus stopThe North Park Flood Relief Fund has been established to provide a means for interested individuals to help the university through this time of financial need. Checks may be made payable to North Park University and mailed to North Park University, 3225 W. Foster Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60625. Checks should be designated for North Park Flood Relief.

Those desiring to make an online contribution may do so by visiting the North Park University online donation page and selecting the “Make a Gift Online” link – make certain to designate gifts for North Park Flood Relief.

“The silver lining, if any, is that certain end-of-life equipment will be replaced – a bit earlier than we would have planned, perhaps, but still very much in need of replacement,” Balsam notes.

Balsam also praised the work of the university’s emergency response team, which for the past year had assembled an emergency response plan in the event of unexpected developments like September’s flooding. Just two weeks prior to the flooding, the team had completed a practice exercise – that session included a hypothetical “what if” scenario involving potential flooding of Magnuson, Anderson and Burgh.

“We didn’t foresee all of the events that would need to be addressed in our walk-through, but we sure had a huge jump on most of the major issues,” Balsam says. “This enabled our response to be quick and thoughtful. All of our departments – physical plant, security, residence life, ARAMARK Campus Dining Services, etc. – all should be commended for their fine work and diligent response.”

To read a previously published story, see Students Evacuated. For pictures of flooded campus areas during the September storm, see Flood Photos.

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