Northside sprinklers make it rain

Photo courtesy of Arianna Meisetschlaeger

A series of fire sprinkler bursts on Dec. 24 resulted in water damage in five different Northside buildings, causing thousands of dollars in resident property damage.

Close to freezing temperatures in late December caused several water lines in Northside’s fire sprinkler system to freeze, crack and burst. Maureen Omrod, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Balfour Beatty – the company that manages Northside – said the maintenance team performed immediate repairs on Christmas Eve to stop all water leaks. However, much of the cosmetic damage will take longer to fix. While two units suffered severe water damage, surrounding units were only minimally impacted. According to Northside, pipe freezes are a common occurrence during the winter months, and similar incidents have occurred in the past.

“What was rather strange was, when [the water] came to my apartment, it was not coming out like a normal fire sprinkler,” Arianna Meisetschlaeger, an AHT senior and Northside resident, said. “It was coming out where the metal meets the ceiling. So, it’s like it started a chain reaction and they all just broke at once.”

When the pipes burst, building-wide alarms went off, signaling residents to evacuate. In an email interview with Omrod, she stated that impacted residents were notified of the incident.

“There were limited impacts as a result of this incident,” Omrod said. “Given the design of the fire sprinkler system, there were impacts [on] both internal and external to apartment units.”

However, Meisetschlaeger said the notification was not immediate for her. Meisetschlaeger stayed at Northside during the fire sprinkler burst and said she had trouble contacting Northside management about the incident.

“It took me a few weeks to talk to the manager, and I had to go down to the office a total of three times,” Meisetschlaeger said. “And we were told the first few times that we would get a call that day or that we would get a call the next day. We never got a call; we never got an email. I heard nothing. But when I was finally able to talk in person with the manager, she claims she called my guarantor and me and left a message, but neither of us ever got notifications or left messages … so, I don’t know if people actually got called or not.”

Most of the damage incurred was structural, according to Omrod. Northside requires all residents to have some form of renter’s insurance, so that if a resident did experience property damage, they could file a claim.

“For my personal belongings, that cost almost $4,000 in damage,” Meisetschlaeger said. “But all this considered, it could have been a lot worse… the only big pieces of tech I lost were an Xbox and a TV. You know what, if that’s the worst it’s going to be, then we’re doing okay.”

Omrod said that the burst lines had limited effects on the majority of residential units. As the fire sprinkler system operates on its own water line, there was no disruption to clean water pipes.

“There were two units where water intrusion required resident displacement in order to perform repairs,” Omrod said. “These residents received a rent concession for the time they were displaced.”

To prevent issues going forward, the Northside team inspected, fully repaired and dried out all units around the compromised pipes. Omrod said the team anticipates to complete cosmetic repairs by Jan. 23. Repairs to the fire sprinkler system and associated water lines are now complete. However, a lingering concern for Meisetschlaeger is mold growth.

“I don’t know how long they were in my apartment to be fair, but I was told as things were unfolding, that they would have to gut the apartment because it was looking so bad,” Meisetschlaeger said.
“And to see them try to avoid that at all costs makes me very concerned because I’m like, how far did the water actually get in.”

Meisetschlaeger has family in Dallas and was able to temporarily relocate. Unfortunately, pipe bursts are common during Texas winters and expensive to repair. Northside recommends students keep the heat in their units set at a safe level, especially while they are away for break.

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