Keuka College evacuates Ball Hall after sprinkler system malfunction

Gwen Chamberlain

About 150 Keuka College students were evacuated from Ball Hall Monday, Feb. 11, after between 5,000 and 6,000 gallons of water streamed through the center of the building from a broken sprinkler system in the attic.

Keuka College Executive Vice President Carolanne Marquis said staff worked into the early morning hours to remove the water from the newly-renovated building, but students could not return because the building’s fire alarm system was not operating.

She says the damage was limited to the core of the building, from the attic through all four levels. Water damaged some students rooms on the second floor, but most student rooms were not affected by the flooding.

That’s not the case for the lobby and some offices, however. Marquis says computers in the admissions office were affected by the water. She says workers are still evaluating the extent of the damage to college and student property.

There was no damage to the building’s outer wings.

One fireman who responded to the emergency call was injured when he missed a beam as he was walking in an area where a floor had broken through. Marquis says from what she’s been told, he was not seriously injured.

Marquis says the extreme cold weather caused some pipes in the building’s “dry sprinkler” fire suppression system to freeze. When one of the sprinkler heads broke, it began to flood the attic and floors below, and also set off the fire alarm system, alerting students to evacuate.

Keuka College officials asked the 150 students who live in the building to find a friend to spend the night with if possible. If they were not able to make arrangements, student affairs staff helped them find a place to stay. Marquis expected the students to return to the building by noon Tuesday.

LeChase Construction, the company that had recently wrapped up the $10 million renovation project in the historic building, sent workers back to the college Tuesday morning, according to Marquis.

Marquis praises the students and staff for the way they handled the emergency.

“It was a little heartbreaking this morning, but it could have been much worse,” she said.