Workers repair 94-year-old water main near Akron Children’s Hospital

This article has been updated.

The rupture of a 94-year-old water main near Akron Children’s Hospital and the subsequent loss of natural gas supplies to Dominion Energy Ohio customers in the area prompted work teams to rush Saturday and into Sunday morning to fix the problems .

Water pressure built up by the 16-inch water main buckled a section of West Center Street early on Saturday morning.

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When a crew from the city of Akron repaired the line, gas supplies to about 100 Dominion customers in the area were cut off, said Stephanie Moore, senior communications specialist at the gas company.

“Crews responded to an outage earlier this morning and are investigating the source of water in the lines that has affected natural gas operations,” Moore said.

The company received a call about the issue late in the morning and began investigating, Moore said in a phone interview Saturday night. Additional teams were dispatched to work on the issue and planned to work overnight to restore service to affected customers.

Brian Lapolla, Akron Children’s Hospital vice president of facilities, planning, construction and public safety, said neither heat nor water issues affected service or patient care at the hospital, which uses city steam for heating.

Water service continued while city crews assessed and repaired the damage to the water main, he said.

However, Lapolla said some administrative buildings and parts of the Ronald McDonald House in Akron on West Street were no longer connected to natural gas. But about 13 families at the Ronald McDonald House don’t have to go, he said.

“Their family rooms are electrically heated, (so) the rooms are heated,” Lapolla said. “Some of the public areas are heated with gas.”

Lapolla said hospital workers working in affected administration buildings had been contacted and told to work remotely on Monday. Many of the 100 to 200 employees were already working from home due to COVID-19 protocols, he said.

Chris Ludle, Akron’s director of public services, said early Saturday afternoon that an early-morning call from the hospital alerted him to the plumbing problem.

“(They) called and said it looks like there might be a burst water main,” he said.

He arrived just before 8 a.m. to find water welling up from under the road.

“When we got there, it was just coming through the floor,” he said.

Although the temperature was still below zero at the time, Ludle said he couldn’t definitely attribute the break to the cold weather conditions.

“It’s not frozen,” he said. “We saw that (also) in the summer.”

According to Ludle, service at the hospital continued when efforts to repair the water main began. He said that redundancies in the system in such cases often help prevent operational failure, although water pressure can be affected.

“We haven’t received any calls from people without water supplies,” he said.

The main line was installed in Akron in 1928 during a period of rapid growth to serve nearby commercial buildings. The old AAA Akron Building, purchased by the organization in 1948 and occupied in 1950, was in close proximity to the West Center Street breach. In 2016, the organization moved to new premises on Rosa Parks Drive to make way for Akron’s massive sewage tunnel project.

Ludle said the amount of water that flowed from the breach undermined the road above and caused it to collapse.

“[At]that size of aqueduct, the road collapsed,” he said. “We need to come back and fix the road.”

According to Ludle, city crews work on three or four water mains a day. The civil service director said his department was able to pull records for the main line and quickly assembled a team to address the problem.

“We mobilized a group within an hour,” he said.

Moore said customers affected by the outage were able to regain access to a municipal warming shelter until about 10pm last night and 8am Sunday morning.

She said those affected were a mix of residential and business customers. The company attempted to contact these residents and businesses.

“(We) are working on an automated message for customers,” she said.

The company was not immediately able to determine the connection between the main rupture and the water in Dominion lines.

But Lapolla said water from the main flowed downhill and froze at some gas meter locations.

“The water flowing downstream has frozen Dominion gas lines, especially when they come out of buildings,” he said. “Those gas lines that go into the buildings have frozen, which is affecting the heating.”

The city, hospital and Dominion stayed connected throughout the day, Lapolla said.

“Everyone is doing their best,” he said.

Ludle said he expects crews to be able to replace and sheath the section of split pipe by Saturday afternoon.

“Around 4 p.m. we’ll have that fixed and start backfilling,” he said.

The West Center Street collapse occurred around 9:30 a.m. as crews assessed the situation. Ludle said they foresaw this possibility.

“With all the pressure, it’s eroding the road,” he said. “We got there (and) blocked the road just in case.”

Ludle said the age of the water line likely played a role in the line failure.

“Something 94-year-old just split,” he said.

Leave a message for Alan Ashworth at 330-996-3859 or email him at aashworth@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj.

Preventing damage to pipes when the heat runs out

According to Dominion Energy Ohio, customers should consider the following steps to prevent damage to their pipes:

• Allow water to drip from the tap. A trickle of water might be enough to keep your pipes from freezing.

• Open cupboard doors. This allows any heat to travel to uninsulated pipes under sinks and equipment near exterior walls.

• Or you can turn off the water and drain the water system. Note that a fire sprinkler system may be deactivated when you turn off the water.