Automotive Technology students cope with water damage from October’s water main break

The outdoor auto lab is under some repairs due to the water main break from October. Photograph/Hannah Tavares)

The outdoor auto lab is under repair due to water main break from October. (Photographer/Hannah Tavares)

Saddleback College’s water main break in the Advanced Technology and Applied Science Division on Oct. 7 occurred when a 30-year-old, corroded, cast iron pipe burst earlier that morning. The water leak, which was discovered at 4 a.m, resulted in the college’s closure that same day, as well as the following day, Oct. 8.

The campus closure was due to water services being shut off in order to help Facilities and Maintenance repair the pipe. The estimated cost of the damage from the water line break is $150,000, said Assistant Director of Facilities Jim Rogers.

The automotive technology department was the most affected area of ATAS.  Since the water leak, students enrolled in the department have been unable to use the auto lifts due to safety concerns. The biggest concern is their stability.

“We can’t work on cars using lifts that are unstable,” said David Eyraud, 22, auto tech. “It’s unsafe working on cars while lifting them up when you have lifts that are unstable.”

Currently, students have been using auto jacks, jack stands, and creepers to work under the vehicles,  but they admit that the process is more difficult and hinders instruction.

“Doing breaks on a car on jack stands are certainly harder to do than putting them on a lift,” said Eyraud. “Lifts are vital to doing work and they are vital to being able to correct repairs efficiently.  Now we don’t have the advantage of putting the car up on the lift.”

Water from the leak originated from under the auto lifts in the outside Auto Lab. (Photo Credit: Auto Tech Students)

Water from the leak originated from under the auto lifts in the outside Auto Lab. (Photo Credit: Auto Tech students)

Eyraud said he believes the building is in danger of further damage because the water main break caused the soil to absorb mass amounts of water.

“You don’t want someone getting crushed by a car, or it tilting over, or the lift moving because the ground is not solid,” said Eyraud. “I have heard that the foundation itself is old and that they need to renovate the building, but [the water leak] doesn’t help.”

The college closed at 1 p.m on the day of the water main break. With the closure, water services were shut off, but Eyraud questions the college’s decision to shut the water off nine hours after it was reported.

“It kind of sucks that it took the college forever to make a decision on this,” said Eyraud. “The [college] should have made a quick decision on turning the water off because we had a bunch of water coming out.”

“It’s ridiculous how long it took”, he said. ” It took until about 1 p.m to make a decision. Who knows how much soil got affected and how long it’s actually going to take to dry that out to become stable again, and how far it reached.”

Facilities and Maintenance attempted to repair the leak and avoid the closure of the college, but after repeated failed attempts, they realized that the issue was more complex, resulting in the shutting off of all water on campus and the closure of the college for two days.

Jordan Kelly, 24, business marketing, was in the auto tech lab when the leak occurred.

“The morning of class we all came at 8 a.m and there was flooding out in the main areas and all the students tried to help in preventing damage from flooding,” Kelly said. “We used push brooms to push [the water] into the drain.  We used sandbags to re-direct the water to the drain and we did the best we could, but they didn’t turn off the water until noon or 1 p.m. in the afternoon after this water leak had happened.”

Kelly participated in an effort to lead the water into the main drain by the outdoor lab.  He says the maintenance personnel brought sandbags, placing them in a line to help lead the water into the drain.

“We did what we could to try to basically slow it down or stop it,” Kelly said. “We had to clean up some of our gutters after they became clogged because there was so much water backing up. There was only so much we could do, but the water wasn’t shut off until many hours after that.”

Brandon Champieux, 30, auto tech, has had many of his classes affected due to the damage done by the water.

Sandbags were place by Facilities personal to help guide the water into the drains. (Photo Credit: Auto Tech Students)

Sandbags were placed by Facilities personnel to help guide the water into the drains. (Photo Credit: Auto Tech students)

“The most hands-on class, the engine class, hasn’t been too affected, but that’s only because we don’t need stable ground and the lifts for that,” Champieux said. “[In] my suspension and alignment class, we haven’t been able to use the alignment racks, so everything we have learned is in theory, and that was kind of a disappointment. I actually wanted to learn which nuts affected which adjustments on your alignment, and we can’t do it.”

The ATAS building as a whole has been affected by October’s water leak according to Champieux.

“The [water leak] has affected everybody in the [auto tech] and in the whole TAS. We have doors upstairs that don’t work because the ground is moving,” Champieux said.

Currently, the Facilities and Maintenance department is assessing the location for other possible damage from where the leak originated. Rogers said he hopes to have the damaged auto hoist facility open again in the spring.

“It’s a pretty involved and complex issue,” Rogers said. “We are trying to push the envelope to get things up and running again.”

Kelly, along with Eyraud and the rest of their classmates, have expressed concern for the auto tech program’s future at Saddleback.

“We are very concerned about the future of the program due to the damage on the facility,” said Kelly. “We all want this facility to be here in the future after its planned rebuild.”

Eyraud hopes to finish his certificate next year and be able to look back and boast where he got his education.

“I want to be able to come here in the spring, get all my classes and in the fall, finish my classes and get my certificate so I can work,” Eyraud said. “I want to be able to tell people, ‘Hey, I went to Saddleback.’  It can’t be beat anywhere else within a reasonable drive.”