Problem just won't melt away

November 6, 2008
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DDA OKs spending for snowmelt repairs, again.

Unlike the snow and ice that the system has quietly dispatched for travelers, the problems with the snowmelt pipes below Monroe Center’s streets and sidewalks isn’t melting away for the Downtown Development Authority.

Once again, DDA members agreed to pay for repairs to the system on both sides of the block that runs east from Monroe Avenue to Ottawa Avenue. The cost for that work, which will be done in three stages, could be as much as $146,150, when administrative costs and a 12 percent contingency are included.

The DDA had budgeted $220,000 this fiscal year for repairs and had already allocated $120,000 to patch the system before this latest expense.

“This takes us over the budget we had for the work,” said DDA Chairwoman Kayem Dunn.

DDA Executive Director Jay Fowler said an infra-red camera inspection of the system in September detected leaks of hot water in five areas. As a result of that inspection, Geotech Inc. has been hired to do a more detailed examination of the pipes in two of the leaky areas, work that will require the brick and concrete to be opened to get a better look at the leaks. Geotech, which did not install the system, will subcontract the work to Grand Valley Automation Inc.

If that job proves to be beneficial for the system, then Geotech will take a closer look at the three other locations where water is seeping out. The DDA is hoping that the first-stage repair, which should cost $48,500 to fix two leaks, will make the second-stage patch-up more efficient and less costly.

“Based on our experience there, maybe we can correct the other three for less than $50,000,” said Fowler.

The third stage adds a new valve pit to the system and rebuilds an existing one, two changes that are expected to improve the operation and maintenance of the system. That work is set to be done next spring.

Fowler said the September inspection indicated that the leaks are coming from the PVC transmission pipes and not from the PEC loops that actually provide the system’s heat. The plan is to replace the PVC piping with PEC pipes because PEC, a polyethylene material, has been designed to be embedded in concrete.

“The technology has improved. This PEC material is used for supply pipes,” said Fowler.

It’s uncertain why the pipes leak. But Fowler said it may be that the PVC piping can’t adequately handle the expansion and contraction that comes from the temperature changes the system experiences. He said another theory is the pipes may have been damaged during construction of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, which is situated on the south side of that block.

That section of the Monroe Center snowmelt system was installed in 2000 and the warranty has expired. The section east of Ottawa to Division Avenue was installed three years earlier. The DDA allocated at least $96,000 to the system between March and July.

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