HAMLET — Public works and fire officials put in a soggy day’s work Monday, pumping more than 200,000 gallons of water out of RCC’s Cole Auditorium. A 3 a.m. pipe burst had sent the water cascading over the stage, turning the orchestra pit into a lap pool and submerging four rows of cushioned seats.
By mid-afternoon, workers had cajoled balky pumps from the Hamlet Fire Department into sending the inside water outside and into storm drains. Pooled water surrounded the auditorium’s cooling station and muddied its bright green lawn.
“It’ll be overtime for several workers,” said Hamlet Fire Chief Calvin White, who had arrived with the pumps at about 8 a.m. “It’s a pretty major operation.”
The college relocated children who were to attend summer camp in the building, as well as a public hearing scheduled for the evening. Workers also capped off water flowing from the auditorium to the rest of the campus so no other building would be affected. And they turned off power to the building.
Maintenance worker Wallace Jones discovered the problem at 6 a.m., when he reported to work at Richmond Community College. When he saw water pooling out the back doors, Jones called his bosses at the college, who called the City of Hamlet, who turned off the water.
Soon, throngs of fire and public works employees were slogging through the muddy morass in back of the auditorium, snaking in hoses to pump as many as 1,700 gallons of water per minute. White said workers had to rotate pumps into and out of service to keep the water flowing into the drains.
Crews from Hayden Construction were also also on-scene to help clean up the mess.
“Probably a fifth of the building may have been affected,” said Brent Barbee, RCC vice president and chief financial officer.
He blamed the flood on a sprinkler pipe supply-line rupture in the rear of the building. The 5- to 6-inch iron pipe split vertically, at its seam, and not at a coupling with another pipe, he said.
When the rampaging water sought a way out of the auditorium, back and loading dock doors acted not as portals but as dams, Barbee said, channeling the flow into the 18-year-old auditorium.
The auditorium building rises up out of a hill. The only portion that sits lower than the hill is the orchestra pit. Thus, it was most adversely affected.
Although no one saw the effects of the rupture until 6 a.m., officials pinpointed its peak at 3 a.m., when city workers marked a spike in water usage. They could not, however, determine where the spike occurred.
At about 10 a.m., a steady stream of water poured from the now-open back doors and into nearby storm drains, creating a Jacuzzi-like effect. Later in the day, workers snaked lines out the side doors, to siphon water from the orchestra pit.
Barbee said officials had told him 200,000 to 250,000 gallons poured into the auditorium — which means next month’s water bill will be huge. Auditorium manager Joey Bennett said that was the least of his concerns. Watching the workers Monday morning, he was dressed as if jolted out of bed — dark shoes and shorts, and a holey T-shirt.
Barbee said the flood “was not for a lack of maintenance or anything like that.”
Last week, inspectors making a routine visit discovered strain in a pipe, he said. Whether that was the culprit in the Monday morning leak, Barbee did not yet know.
The burst was discovered in time to limit damage to loose tiles and warped wood floors, Barbee hoped. He thought theater seats and carpet probably could be saved.
The auditorium will be out of commission to insure safety, since water flooded electrical outlets. Luckily, Barbee said, it isn’t peak season for the auditorium: graduation has passed, and show season hasn’t started.
But community members who have arranged to use the auditorium will not be allowed to do so for at least two weeks. The college has called to reschedule or change locations for any group wanting to use the auditorium.
Barbee said it will take a couple of weeks for the auditorium to dry out and for potential repairs to be made.
Onstage Monday, workers used spot- and flashlights to position hoses, casting ghostly shadows on the walls of the auditorium as workers outside slogged about in boots and brogans.
By mid-afternoon, White said about half the water had been pumped out. Just before 6 p.m., industrial dehumidifiers were brought in to help dry things out.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.
Hamlet Fire Chief Calvin White shows Chief Deputy Mark Gulledge of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office the water still remaining underneath the stage at Cole Auditorium.
Nearly 6 feet of water sits under the stage, waiting to be pumped out.