By Paul Thompson
Employees returned to City Hall on the afternoon of Thursday, January 4, less than 48 hours after a broken water line saturated electrical equipment and caused flooding in the building’s lower lobby.
The two-inch main fire suppression line broke between the main lobby and lower level of City Hall at about 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, January 2, causing significant flooding and putting electrical equipment at risk. Because the equipment needed to be temporarily shut down and dried out as a result of the water leak, power and fire suppression were affected. As a result, City Hall remained closed all day Wednesday and throughout the morning on Thursday.
In the meantime, City staffers continued their work from alternate work sites throughout the city. The City Planning department, for instance, moved its operation to the Kansas City, Missouri Health Department at 24th and Troost.
“Every department has a continuity of operations plan,” said Rod Richardson of the Communications Department on Wednesday, Jan. 3. “The electricians are still at work, and they’re not finished.”
By the morning of Jan. 4, members of the media were allowed into the basement of City Hall to view the damage. The building re-opened for regular business at noon.
“I appreciate the good work by our General Services Department staff to handle the repairs and cleanup so that this old building could get back up and running,” City Manager Troy Schulte said in a Jan. 4 statement. “And I thank all our employees who quickly implemented the continuity of operations plans, set up shop in alternate locations and kept services available for residents.”
According to KCMO Building Manager Steve Karvelas, security personnel on site were the first to notice water leaking out of a basement electrical room on Tuesday evening. From there, Karvelas and other pertinent staff members were called down to City Hall to address the issue.
“That’s when we noticed the water coming from the switchgear room,” Karvelas said. “The flow was coming from under the door; it looked like a little river. A two-inch line puts out a lot of water.”
At that point, Karvelas determined that the water was coming from a burst sprinkler line. Workers stopped the water, and then Kansas City Power & Light employees arrived to look at the electrical issues. Eventually, roughly a dozen people – mostly firefighters, according to Karvelas – worked to squeegee water out of the basement and into the parking garage.
The decision to close City Hall on Jan. 3 was made by Schulte after receiving a report compiled by Karvelas.
“The biggest issue was getting that transformer dried out so we could check it, re-energize it, and see where we stood with that main switchgear,” Karvelas said. “That electrical component was probably the biggest issue.”
As of Thursday morning, the City did not have a final price tag on the repairs related to the burst pipe, though Karvelas suggested that the incident caused “minimal damage,” relatively speaking.
KCMO Communications Director Chris Hernandez further indicated that most of the workers brought in to assess the damage or assist in the clean-up were already under contract with the City.
“We have existing contracts for the vendors and the clean-up crews and the people who work here,” Hernandez said. “There will be some costs, but it’s not going to be huge.”
Ultimately, Karvelas said that he was satisfied with how the City handled the emergency situation.
“It was great; we all worked together as a team,” Karvelas said. “Everyone chimed in, everything was coordinated, and everything kept moving.”