By Mackenzie Herring
A significant portion of Lewis & Clark’s Fir Acres Theatre, spanning two levels, has had to be cleared due to concentrated water damage. The area in question covers a corner of the prop storage loft and on the bottom level, the mechanical room, which the Theatre department has no access to.
Associate Vice President for Facilities Michel George, said that the water damage was due to a broken downspout and was the result of a faulty system already in place.
“Basically that was a downspout backed up going into the wall, they’ve been (leaking) for a long time,” George said. “It pre-dated me. Somebody decided they’d put a bucket system to catch it, and the bucket overflowed. When I heard we had that there I took it out and refixed it.”
Since the campus itself is very old, George said that leaks like these are expected, especially in the older buildings.
“The roofs when I got here were not in good shape, they were leaking a lot,” George said. “We had a lot of backed up downspouts, we’ve since replaced the ones. They were undersized. We are gradually wheeling them away but it is a very old campus, and until we get to renew it and do a lot of stuff, we’re going to have leaks.”
Fir Acres Technical Director Matthew Robins said that while the leak was noticed during class hours, it could have begun a long time before then due to inclement weather.
“We first discovered it actually when one of the instructors here, Ashton Hull, was teaching a class in her classroom, and she heard the sound of gushing water, which is not normal in this building,” Robins said. “She warned me about it and it was only then that I was able to get into the corner and find that literally gallons of water had been pouring in for hours … It’s possible the leak had been there for literally years without us noticing, until there was that one catastrophic day of super heavy rainfall and we were able to notice it.”
Despite the damage, Robins said that his work hasn’t been affected by the reparation process.
“We have had to clear out a section of our storage so that workers can have access to this space for the cleaning, the demolding and the structural work that needs to be done,” Robins said. “So, my poor student prop manager whose job is to organize and maintain that space, she’s having to work at a bit of a disadvantage, but she’s doing a great job with it. It’s not impacting my day to day work especially since they were able to stop any more leaking from happening.”
Student Prop Manager Jacqui Simmons ’21 said that the damage meant she had to remove props out of the affected corner so that maintenance could tend to the leak.
“The main issue is just the lack of space because we’ve been having to clear out an entire corner of the loft to make space for it,” Simmons said. “I know just for me it was just making sure there was enough time to come in and help with moving everything out of the way. I think it was just one or two days of just getting out of there. Once everything was cleared my job was pretty much over it’s just maintenance working on it now.”
Incidents involving roof damage in Fir Acres Theatre are not new.
“In my 10 years here, there’s been a lot of work done on the roof structure of the Fir Acres Theater,” Robins said. “Before I got here there had been some pretty public and slightly funny cases of the roof failing at inopportune moments.”
Robins said that there had been major events warranting renovation, but believes that some of these renovations were done poorly.
“A leak opened up in the roof during one of our performances, and it just happened that the president of the college at the time was in that performance as a guest star and so got to witness the roof opening up on audience members in the middle of a performance… and so a lot of work has been done on the roof of this building over those years,” Robins said. “We thought, and by ‘we’ I mean myself and the people at facilities, that we had covered all of our bases. But it was only after this damage was discovered that they were able to do more inspection and find that there had been a few things done improperly during the roof renovation.”
In the time Robins has been employed at LC, he hasn’t experienced any water damage this severe.
“We’ve had quite a few roof leaks, nothing this bad. Certainly, the worst I’ve ever seen, Robins said. “It was a tiny waterfall.”