After the flood: McGill mops up

Posted on Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cleanup crews work on removing floodwater from the Wong Building / Photo: Adam Scotti

By McGill Reporter Staff

For Jean-Bernard Ng Man Sun, his experience in Monday’s flood was “like a scene from a movie.” Most probably A River Runs Through It or The Poseidon Adventure.

At just around 4:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon, Ng Man Sun, a graphic designer in the Graphic Design unit, heard the sound of running water at the back of his first-floor office area in the James Building Annex next door to the Administration building. “At first I thought it was someone using the sink, but it sounded strange,” he said. Going to investigate, Ng Man Sun and a colleague found water steeping in through a window frame.

“We started moving the paper for our printer away from the window so it wouldn’t get wet,” he said. Stepping away from the window proved to be a good move, as minutes later, the window exploded, sending shards of glass flying through the air and unleashing a torrent of water into the Annex.

“Within minutes, we were a foot-deep in muddy water,” said Ng Man Sun. “It was surreal.”

When Security Services arrived on the scene minutes later, Ng Man Sun and his colleagues were told to get out of the Annex. “We barely had time to gather our personal belongings,” he said.

While the water has since receded, it will take a while before the Annex is once again open for business.

“The Annex was hit pretty hard,” said Doug Sweet, Director of Internal Communications. “Furniture and computer equipment was damaged and whenever you have a flood there can be issues of air quality and possible mold. It’s safe to say it could be a number of weeks – if not longer – before the Annex is operational again.”

In the meantime, like a number of McGill employees, Ng Man Sun is working from home this week and is awaiting word on where he and his unit will be relocated while cleanup operations are under way.

The Annex is not the only McGill building drying out. Addressing the media on Tuesday, Michael Di Grappa, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance), said some 12 buildings have been affected by the flood. Service Point, the Welcome Centre, the Wong Building and James Administration among the hardest hit, along with the Annex.

Di Grappa, said it was still too early to put an exact dollar amount to the damage. “But we believe it to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

Dozens of people who work in Research and International Relations offices on the second floor of the James Building will also have to be relocated because carpets and walls soaked by the influx of water through the building’s back door need to be dealt with.

A couple of the campus’s green initiatives, unfortunately located in the path of the rushing floodwaters, also suffered damage.

Big Hanna, the campus composter billed as the biggest of its kind in Canada back when it was installed in 2010, is surrounded by debris, without electricity, and needs to be leveled and re-calibrated by the distributor who delivered it to the University before it can be used again.

Gravel, asphalt and other debris litter the entrance to the alcove in which Big Hanna, McGill's industrial composter, is situated. / Photo courtesy Eric Champagne

The T240 industrial composter, located in an alcove outside the Wong building, can turn 60 tons of food preparation waste from McGill kitchens into six tons of compost per year – “Black Gold” that is used to fertilize lawns, gardens and flowers across the campus.

“Now it’s surrounded by about a foot of gravel and dirt,” said Eric Champagne, Horticultural Supervisor in McGill’s Department of Facilities, Operations and Development. “And the scaffolding people use to put the compostable material inside it is not safe to work on. Basically, the machine is not safely accessible.”

Composting collection and processing has been suspended until the machine is functional again, Champagne said.

A little further downstream, a vegetable garden that is part of the student-led Campus Crops project, located between the Birks building and the McGill School of the Environment building, was badly damaged. The floodwaters dumped dirt and paving stones from an adjacent pathway onto the garden, washed away the topsoil and destroyed a tarpaulin that group members used to cover an invasive plant nearby.

“There’s a lot of time, energy and money that has been lost for us,” said Campus Crops member Carl Dion. “People who started the garden in 2007 did a lot of work to remove the rocks and improve the soil, but, with the flood, in terms of soil condition for the garden, it’s literally back to Square One for Campus Crops. We’ll have a lot of work to do in order to restore the garden to a usable state. Even then, we might not be able to use it to grow vegetables next summer.”

Reporter readers are invited to send their flood stories, videos and pictures to neale.mcdevitt@mcgill.ca

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