Steffee Hall vandalized after hours

Three floors experience water damage


Meghan Stewart

Steffee Hall of Life Sciences suffered severe water damage on Nov. 22, 2015 after a safety shower was pulled and left running.

An unknown assailant(s) reportedly turned on a safety shower on the second floor of Steffee Hall of Life Sciences. The shower potentially ran for hours before security received the call, causing thousands of gallons of water to flood the second, first and basement floors.  

Campus security received a call around midnight Sunday morning, Nov. 22, concerning the condition of Steffee, according to communications officer Anna Snyder. Campus security could not confirm when an officer was dispatched or arrived on scene.

Sean Kennedy, interim director of safety and security, said the Meadville police department is conducting an investigation into the incident.

The college is waiting to hear from the insurance adjuster, who assessed the building Tuesday, Dec. 1, on the official costs of the damage, but Linda Wetsell, chief financial officer and treasurer, estimates that the damage to the building is easily more than $100,000.

Damages to the building include water damage to the structure as well as electrical components, furniture and equipment.

“The second floor was flooded a couple inches deep,” said Cliff Willis, director of physical plant. “So it damaged floor tile, soaked carpeting, and if people had papers or books or belongings they were soaked.”

Water from the second floor dripped down to the first and basement floors, damaging ceiling tiles, floors and walls.

“The duct work insulation was saturated,” said Willis. “Collapsing ceiling tile fell on desks, on chairs, on lab benches. So there were things that were damaged because of that. In one room the lights were shorted out. There was a mechanical room in the basement that had a panel that has building controls that was shorted out from the water.”

Willis was on scene shortly after 3 a.m., but prior to his arrival, housekeeping staff was already working to clear the water. The shower had been shut off by the time Willis arrived.

It’s a shame that somebody did this. To me, vandalism is an act of cowardice.

— Cliff Willis

“They were trying to get it cleaned up,” said Willis. “It was beyond their capability with the equipment they had. I notified a company called Fire, Water, Restoration…they had their first person on staff shortly after 5 [a.m.]”

The repair company worked with housekeeping to vacuum the water and then dry the building. Fans were in the building from Nov. 22-30. The college expects structural repairs to be completed over winter break.

Following the incident, some Allegheny community members expressed concern over the drainage system in Steffee, saying the lack of drains in the building may have contributed to the flooding.

Provost Ron Cole maintained however that there was not a plumbing issue.

“The safety shower in question wasn’t malfunctioning, there’s no damage to it, it wasn’t broken,” said Cole. “The way it works is you pull on a chain to pull it on and you pull on a chain to pull it off. It was never turned off. Nothing indicates there was any plumbing malfunction.”

Lauren French, chair of the biology department, said the damage to Steffee went beyond the physical destruction.

“Insurance isn’t going to cover so and so’s senior project and all the hours they put into that. Insurance will cover some, I emphasize some, of the material things and structural things,” said French.

Cole echoed French’s sentiment, saying he was disappointed with the vandalism.

“It affects everybody on campus because ultimately the costs for repairs and replacement of equipment is going to take away from other initiatives we may have had going on this year,” said Cole.

Once the claim is filed, the college pays a $25,000 deductible that comes from the college’s operating budget.

“We will have to judge what, if anything, will have to change in what we are doing,” said Cole. “My point is though this is not something we should have to absorb. It’s just senseless. It’s maddening. We should have a greater appreciation for our, I can’t even think of the words I’m rather frustrated about it. It just shows a lack or respect and a lack of appreciation for our initiatives on campus. I’m not happy about it.”

In addition to the deductible, French made clear that some senior projects and research projects which were affected will now require additional costs to complete the research.

Disappointment in the incident was shared by Wetsell, Cole, French and Willis.

“It’s a shame that somebody did this,” said Willis. “To me, vandalism is an act of cowardice.”