Water pipe bursts at United Way building in Tacoma

A thawed sprinkler pipe flooded another historic downtown building during the Thanksgiving week cold snap, but cleanup began immediately and was ongoing Monday.

“It was a pipe that broke on Thanksgiving night, on our fourth floor,” said Pete Grignon, the vice president of finance for the United Way of Pierce County, which owns the five-story building at South 15th Street and Pacific Avenue.

Most of the damage was on the fourth floor, but water did affect perimeter sheetrock and the elevators’ electrical panels, he said.

ServiceMaster of Greater Tacoma came to the 120-year-old structure almost immediately to begin removing standing water and water-damaged material, then setting up dehumidifiers and large fans, said Ernie Dittmann, commercial accounts manager.

Since last weekend, the company has been forcing hot air through the building to fully dry it out.

Old City Hall was flooded the day before Thanksgiving through the same mechanism: a sprinkler pipe burst by thawing weather. Water soaked walls and carpets, but no emergency mitigation was done.

Building owner George Webb said Monday that he had hired Adjusters International to work with his insurance company and to conduct water migration and environmental studies at the building at 625 Commerce St.

“We’re not experts in water damage, so we’ve engaged some experts,” he said. “I think we’re in good hands. We share the community’s concern, and we want to assure people we’re moving forward on determining the damage.”

Dittmann said emergency mitigation goes a long way toward preventing mold.

“The biggest concern always is mold,” he said.

Certain conditions need to be present for mold to be a concern. The United Way building and Old City Hall have all the conditions, Ditt-mann said, ticking them off: moisture, the right temperature, air circulation and a food source, which is the building itself.

“Twenty-four to 48 hours is usually the window of time that you need to have emergency mitigation,” he said. “After that is when you have the potential for mold.”

When asked why no emergency mitigation was done at Old City Hall, Webb said he’d need to refer that question to Adjusters International.

“I hired (them) immediately,” he said, adding that he met the representatives at the building on Friday morning, two days after the flood.

Grignon of the United Way said employees have been working remotely since the flood, and no services have been disrupted. He expects the building’s six other tenants to move back in within the next month, after new walls and carpet are installed.

The organization is working with an industrial hygienist to make sure the building is healthy.

“It’s not dangerous to work in the building,” he said. “The air quality is perfect.”

Grignon said insurance will cover the cost of mitigation and replacement, so the nonprofit likely will end up spending $5,000 on the flood.

Kathleen Cooper: 253-597-8546 kathleen.cooper@ thenewstribune.com