Editor’s note: The story by Darren Marcy first appeared in the Valley News on Aug. 20.
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Several businesses were given the OK to reopen Friday as cleanup and repairs continued at the 130-year-old Gates Briggs Building after a water main break Monday night flooded the building’s basement with an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 gallons of water.
Hartford Fire Marshal Tom Peltier said he approved the temporary occupancy allowing business in the building to reopen Friday after all maintenance-related fire safety systems were restored to good working order.
The water main that feeds the sprinkler system was still being repaired Friday afternoon, but the system was raised so a pumper truck could deliver water, which allowed passengers to reopen. There are no residential units in the building.
While some businesses reopened in a limited capacity, others likely won’t return for a week or more while they clean up. Kim Souza, owner of Revolution, announced that her business would be closed by August 29.
Although her basement only had about 8 inches of water, less than other parts of the building, she said the sludge left behind is still making a mess.
David Briggs, who manages the building for the family trust that owns it, said the cleanup would leave the building “as clean as the new builds when they’re done”.
The broken line that flooded the basement continued to cause problems Friday, as an 8-foot-deep hole measuring 3 to 4 feet opened up in the pavement along North Main Street near Tuckerbox.
City Manager Tracy Yarlott-Davis said the city was closing the sidewalk and parking spaces along that side of the road until an engineer could determine what repairs needed to be made.
Until the lines can be fully repaired and the water supply reconnected to the sprinkler system, the Tuckerbox and Piecemeal Pies restaurants will be limited to a reduced frequency, Yarlott-Davis said.
The Briggs Opera House upstairs is closed without power and has not been cleared for occupancy.
Briggs said the electrical panel for the Opera House is in the basement and crews wanted to inspect it more carefully before determining if it was safe. A small theater production has moved into the Coolidge Hotel, Briggs said.
Briggs said work is progressing, but it will be up to the supply chain to determine how long the repair takes.
“Critical missions are completely dependent on supply lines for equipment,” Briggs said, adding that two major pieces of equipment are normally on the shelf, but he won’t know their availability until Monday.
Once the equipment is in hand, installation is a two-day job, Briggs said.
“It could be finished by the end of next week, but it’s also possible it could take a long time,” Briggs said.
The building is under a “fire watch,” which requires building owners to have someone on site 24 hours a day.
“Literally, the staff has to go through the entire building and make sure there are no problems,” Peltier said. “They walk around the building and make sure there are no hazards, fire, smoke, etc.”
Peltier said the building has been deemed structurally sound and any issues have been mitigated for temporary occupancy, but the building will be reevaluated next week or sooner if conditions change.
“Right now, all systems and components have been inspected,” Peltier said.
He said the fire alarm system is working and the electrical system is secure.
The cause of the flood has been identified as a water line feeding the basement’s sprinkler system, which burst, filling the basement with water up to the waist before shutting off.
On Friday, Yarlott-Davis said the city was still looking into the incident, but said there was no indication that construction in the area was related to the demolition.
“We haven’t worked on that side of the building in over 40 days,” Yarlott-Davis said. “There was no indication of pressure build-up or anything of that nature.”
Briggs said he would wait before addressing those details.
“Experts and professionals will sort it out and look at the realities of it,” Briggs said. “We’ve documented it very, very well.”
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