“What’s that smell?”

Backed up pipes cause putrid odor in south building

These sump pumps transfer the waste out of the pit below and must be manually turned on three times a day due to automatic system failure from improper manufacturing or installation.

Josh Gerenraich '17

These sump pumps transfer the waste out of the pit below and must be manually turned on three times a day due to automatic system failure from improper manufacturing or installation.

Josh Gerenraich '17, Lifestyles Staff

In the three and a half years since the opening of Jones’ south building, there have been strange smells filling its $114 million dollar hallways. In the years past, the closer one gets to the southernmost stairwell, the stench from the trash compactor would be more apparent. This school year, it seems to be more than just one stairwell and some smelly trash.

Students who have had the displeasure to experience the smell do not have great things to say about it.

“[The smell] is very surprising and every time I walk out onto the 4th or 5th floor hallways, it hits me. I’m not sure how the problem arose but it should be handled because it smells like a farm,” said Harry Hicks ‘17.

Chief Engineer Dan Casasanto has been working on the odor, which has been occurring longer than Jones’ nostrils would detect.

“That smell is a problem that has existed from the day of opening,” said Casasanto. “That is something the plumbers did not fix under the warranty through Walsh Construction, the construction management company that built the building. The issue is with the sewer sump pumps and they are in the basement next to the parking lot and elevator shafts. They never worked right from the beginning.”

The $10,000 pumps in Jones are very complex and are found throughout the city because of Chicago’s marshy terrain in the past.

“Sump pumps are built in many basements that are designed to act as a catch-basin for water that seeps into a building and it is very common in Chicago due to its high water levels,”  said Powers. “These sump pumps catch the water and pump it out so it does not accumulate. The pumps are not working correctly so the accumulation of sewage backing up causes the smell to arise. I have smelled it as high as the seventh floor.”

Although the issue of smell has been a year-long problem, the pumps have been faulty since they were installed.

“There is a pit [4 feet in diameter and 12 feet in depth] where the building’s sewage is compiled,” said Casasanto. “There are two floats in the pit, a low and a high, that are sensors for the pumps to automatically know when to turn on and off when pumping out the waste. When the waste reaches the high float, the pumps are supposed to automatically turn on the pumps and pump out the waste until the level reaches the low float after about three minutes and stops the pumps so they do not overheat.”

In short, due to mis-wiring and installation from Walsh construction, the floats do not detect when the levels are high or low so the pumps do not automatically turn on and off. Because of this, the engineers have had to pump the sewage manually for the past three years three times a day. When there is an overproduction of waste, like when students eat too many beans the night before or the pit is not emptied over the weekend, the pit becomes full. The drains in the basement, being next to the elevator shaft, brings the smell up with the elevator draft, causing the building to smell.

“The problem is easy to fix, but the blame is what has been hard to place,” said Powers.

The issue has only just been able to be fixed after three years, because of the multiple companies involved.

“The school board hires this company called Public Building Commission. Public Building Commission is supposed to act for the owners and supervise the project for CPS. They were emailed and notified multiple times of the issue and came out to see that [the pumps] were not working properly,” said Casasanto.

When the pumps were finally inspected, the blame game started.

“Public Building Commission is spread thin and has been hard to reach. When they were finally available and the inspection took place, Daugherty, the manufacturing company of the pumps, and D.A.M. Plumbing, the company that installed the pump, both blamed each other. Public Building Commision has documented that the problem was reported before the warranty was up, and they have been trying to get the companies back to fix the problem without CPS having to spend money,” said Casasanto.

A meeting took place on February 17, where the engineers, CPS, and Public Building Commission all met to decide the plan of action and to finalize the blame for a clean fix through the warranty.

“Walsh has been notified that they are the chosen company to fix the issue,” said Casasanto. “They have two weeks to fix the problem or the money that was withheld from Walsh will be used to hire a different private contractor to fix the issue.”

The smelly situation should be resolved by the first week of March.