Gabel Hall area may be unsafe

By Dawn Panka

Potentially dangerous steam from a broken underground steam pipe near Gabel Hall forced NIU engineers to fence off the area.

Tony Coyle, chief plant operating engingeer, said the outercasing of the pipe is deteriorating and is allowing surface water into the surface line, destroying the insulation and allowing heat to escape.

To keep students away from the area, a brown snow fence was erected between Gabel Hall and the children’s playground in late August, when the deterioration was discovered, Coyle said.

The deteriorating line, known as a Ric Wil, lets heat escape and rise to the ground surface, producing a warm surface area. If there is water on the ground, a geo-thermal effect will take place, producing a “mud-boiling pit,” Coyle said.

The deterioration was first suspected by signs of dying grass around the playground, which signals a piping problem, Coyle said.

Though the deterioration is a slow process, it gradually will get bigger, making it even more dangerous, Coyle said.

Although the danger is apparent, the Ric Wil is not scheduled to be replaced until 1991 or 1992 because of a lack of funding. At that time, the fence will come down, Coyle said.

“The replacement of the piping is our first priority, but we do not have the funding,” Coyle said.

Coyle said the normal life-span of a Ric Wil is about seven to 20 years, but the new tunnel system of piping scheduled for installation lasts about 100 years.

Although this process is more practical, it is very expensive and to do a campus-wide replacement would have to be funded on a year-to-year basis, Coyle said.

Coyle said the fence was put up to stop children and students from entering the area and to reduce the risk of injuries.

He said although there’ve been no problems with students ignoring the fence, one could develop. “Any construction area that is in a students’ way, the student will find a way through,” Coyle said.