Frogs Threatened by Mud, Water Flooding U.Va.'s Gilmer Hall

September 07, 2011

September 7, 2011 — Tuesday's heavy rains caused flooding in the University of Virginia's Gilmer Hall that threatened 8,000 frogs.

The frogs are part of ongoing research by the College of Arts & Sciences' Department of Biology, which is housed in Gilmer.

"The mud and water got to about five or six inches high," said Robert Grainger, W.L. Lyons Brown Professor of Biology. "If it had gotten an inch higher, we could have lost the whole frog colony."

The muddy mess came from a dormitory construction site across Alderman Road and entered the building in Tuesday's early morning hours through an unused, 5-foot utility tunnel, said Katherine Meyer, a project manager with Facilities Management. The tunnel had connected the mechanical room at Gilmer to Maupin House, which has been demolished, and will later be reconnected to the new residence house to be constructed on the site.

The mud and water mixture from the construction site flowed through the pipe after the area received about four inches of rain in six hours. Meyer said the open end of the pipe was well above ground level and it was never anticipated that water would overflow the lip of the pipe.

Once in Gilmer, the water triggered alarms that had been put into place to alert University officials if the frog tanks started leaking.

Grainger credited frog room manager Amy Stepanic with saving the frogs.

"The drains in the floor were plugged with mud," Grainger said. "And Amy stayed the night, digging the mud out of the drains so the water would flow."

Stepanic said there was about six inches of mud and water in the frog room and the approximately 10 floor drains were clogged with mud and debris. She stayed through the night clearing the drains by hand.

"I would empty them all, wait about 10 minutes and then go back and do them again," she said.

Stepanic said the water was within an inch of the motors that operate the filtration systems, control the temperatures and keep the water circulating in the frog tanks. The rain stopped about 5 a.m. and water stopped pouring into the room. Once the water was able to drain out, the real clean-up started.

"I've been shoveling mud all day yesterday and today and I'll probably be shoveling mud all day tomorrow," she said Wednesday.

Grainger said that a quick response from Stepanic and Facilities Management saved between $200,000 to $300,000 in equipment, as well as the lives of the frogs.

"The Facilities Management people have been working hard on this," Grainger said. "Systems Control" and Facilities Management responded very quickly to this. They know how important the frogs are to us."

The frogs are not out of the metaphorical woods yet, however. The water for the frogs' tanks is supplied by a well drilled about 200 feet down near the intersection of McCormick and Alderman roads. Grainger said this well supplies fresh, constant-temperature water to the frogs. The flood, however, burned out the pumps that draw the water. Grainger said the frogs are currently relying on city water, which must be filtered and cooled to make a survivable environment. He said he hopes the pumps will be replaced and the well water turned on later this week.

Meyer said the equipment in Gilmer's mechanical room was on platforms and not damaged. While the building's ground floor has been temporarily closed, the upper floors of the building remain open and in use. Anna Towns, director of space planning and management for the College of Arts & Sciences, estimated that it would be three to four weeks before the space is usable again.

Furniture and carpeting were removed from the floor, which contains laboratories, offices and storage space. Meyer said some of the furniture could be cleaned, salvaged and returned to the building.

The water and mud were being removed Wednesday and a damage assessment will be performed on the facilities and fixtures.

— By Matt Kelly

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications