Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 22  |  Friday, October 1, 1999  |  Number 19
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New Plumbing for Wilson Hall

by Sharon Butler

Elaine McCluskey, of Fermilab Facilities and Engineering Services Section is in charge of Wilson Hall's renovation project Diners in the cafeteria sat up in 1993 when a chunk of concrete from the 15th floor tumbled down through the sloping glass wall on the south side of Wilson Hall.

Four years later, people bolted right out of their chairs when a distribution pipe broke on the 6th floor, creating an unwelcome waterfall that flooded the atrium. Deteriorated wall on the 15th floor.

Such anecdotes will be things of the past when construction work begins on a much-anticipated two-year project to right everything that's wrong in this architectural innovation unimaginatively dubbed, originally, the Central Lab, and now the High-Rise.

The Beauvais Cathedral in France served as inspiration for the design of Wilson Hall. The church's unfortunate history during the Medieval Ages might have forewarned the High Rise's architects of troubles to come. The cathedral was never completed west of the choir and transepts. And in 1284, its roof caved in requiring the choir to be reconstructed and strengthened by additional piers. Nevertheless, it was the loftiest building of its time in Europe, and a daring achievement in Gothic architecture. Its structure is held together internally only by a network of iron tie-rods.

Bracket used to support crossover beams. Like the Beauvais Cathedral, Wilson Hall is itself constructed of two lofty towers, connected by crossovers on each floor. The crossovers are tethered on the east side, while a series of joints connects the crossovers with the west tower. The joints were intended to "give"only during construction, to permit proper "tensioning"of the internal reinforcements. At the time, no one guessed that they would move with weather-related expansion and contraction. But that is exactly what happens. Hence, the concrete-on-concrete joints break rather than slide. The result has been broken windows, cracked concrete and falling pieces of cement.

Renovations, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, will start the first week of October with an overhaul of the building's plumbing: the central risers that carry water up the main shafts, as well as the distribution pipes that carry the water to the bathrooms on the first six floors.

Work on the plumbing for the remaining floors will follow, as well as structural repairs to the crossovers, the window walls on the north and south sides of the building, the skylights and the floor in the front atrium.

To make sure that coring holes for the new plumbing work doesn't damage the structural integrity of the building, contractors will have to peer deep into the concrete floors using a standard technique called industrial radiography. The X-rays (actually, gamma rays) will enable engineers to determine the exact location of crucial structural components.

Don Cossairt, associate head for radiation protection at Fermilab, emphasized that the process is absolutely safe. It leaves behind no radioactive materials. Moreover, the radiography, like the rest of the plumbing work, will be performed only at night, between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. The areas being analyzed will be closed off, with access given only to those people working on the radiography. (Notices on closures will be posted when details become available.) Licensed technicians will operate in accordance with state and federal regulations, Cossairt said.

Elaine McCluskey, the Fermilab engineer who is overseeing the entire renovation project, said that the contract restricts the plumbing work to after-hours so that most workers will not be disturbed by the noise.

Fermilab employees should be pleased with the results of the new plumbing. There won't be any more vile-tasting discolored water requiring the purchase of Sparkling Spring canisters. The drinking fountains will finally carry water that's chilled and filtered.

last modified 10/1/1999   email Fermilab