Steam leak evacuates Walker Hall

Water leaks through a large gap in the ceiling of the newly renovated room 184A in Walker Hall.

Residents of Walker Hall exited their building in response to a fire alarm on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 6. However, as students on the first floor returned to their rooms, they noticed something not part of a typical fire alarm: water pouring from an open ceiling tile in one of the floor’s newly-renovated bathrooms, room 184A.
“During the renovation project, they had not properly capped some steam lines,” said Director of Physical Plant Joseph Michael. “When we turned the heat back on in the building, of course there was a steam leak.”
The alarm briefly went off again for the entire building later that morning, before continuing only on the second floor of the hall for several more hours. Michael said that there was no way to shut the alarm off while the sensor was still connected to the system.
“The sensor was still going off, saying, ‘hey, there’s something wrong in here,’ and that’s why we couldn’t do the reset on the panel, because there was still a fault,” Michael said. “The only way to do it is to remove it from the system, and there’s a high risk when we do that, so it’s better that we do the proper thing and fix the problem at hand.”
Smoke detectors can mistake steam as evidence of a fire, as steam and smoke behave similarly to the devices.
The source of the leak appeared to be the bathroom directly above 184A, room 295A. As water cascaded through an open ceiling panel in room 184A, the floor of room 295A, located on the second level of Walker, was coated in water, and one stall was marked with a sign that read “Temporarily Out of Order.”
However, according to Michael, 295A’s problems are unrelated to the steam leak that set the alarm off, though the two issues are linked by their broader overarching cause.
“We basically gutted those bathrooms completely, down to nothing, and started from scratch,” Michael said. “Everything works in the design, but it doesn’t always work in practicality, especially when you start putting a bunch of people in there and using it. It’s unfortunately part of the process. We always hope it works perfectly when we start it but it doesn’t always work out that way, so it’s good to know when something isn’t functioning as it should.”
According to Isaac Hammer, ’25, who used to live on the second floor of Walker, room 295A has had a rocky start this semester. Hammer moved out of the hall on Oct. 6.
“The state of the bathroom was not great even before that day,” Hammer said. “I know a couple toilets had flooded for a while and stalls were out of order. There were a couple stalls that I just would not go into ever because the conditions were just constantly bad.”
One stall in particular, Hammer said, flooded three times.
“It was just not really great trying to live in that space,” Hammer said. “That same toilet, I don’t know what happened, but there was like really gross water, just all across the floor, going out of the stall and into the rest of the bathroom.”
Hammer also said that issues were not limited to the toilets.
“There was one time when the lights were actually out for a full day in the bathroom,” Hammer said. “I think it was an issue with the motion sensor because they were out in both the main bathroom and the gender-inclusive one that’s slightly further down.”
Michael — who said he was not aware of any electrical issues in Walker bathrooms — said his office cannot solve a problem if they are not aware of it happening.
“We don’t go in the bathrooms every day, because we try to respect peoples’ privacy and space,” Michael said. “As part of the head RA and RA training, we typically go through the checks and make sure the RAs understand that they really are Physical Plant’s eyes and ears out there, because we try to respect that space.”
Residence Life Coordinator Annie Custer, who oversees RAs in Walker, said she had not heard of any issues with the building’s restrooms prior to being asked about them during an interview.
“If you ever see something on the weekend or throughout the night, please report it, because those are communal restrooms,” Custer said. “Residence Life, and all the residents who live there, want to love where they live. It’s no fun using a communal bathroom that other people use and are leaving dirty, so we’re really committed to try our best to fix those in a timely manner.”
Hammer said they never reported these concerns to the Office of Residence Life, saying that they “kind of just tried to go about my day.”
When Hammer decided to move, they initially wanted to stay in Walker, as it is one of the college’s gender-inclusive halls, and were given a room on the first floor of the building. However, that room had its own issues.
“There were so many issues where the carpet was peeling up, there were weird, rust-looking stains on the ground,” Hammer said. “There were drawers broken, there were shelves broken, there was a closet that was broken. It was just really bad conditions that I didn’t want to live in and that kind of was upsetting because I wanted to specifically be in that building.”
Throughout this process, Hammer said that the Residence Life team was “pretty good at communicating.”
“I don’t ever think I was sitting there waiting too long for any email,” Hammer said. “Both times when I went to move, the email was sent out pretty quickly, the key was ready and it was a good process.”