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Monday, April 21, 2008

UW-Whitewater students left without heat and hot water

--- Explosion rips through UW-Whitewater campus building

By Kayla Bunge/The Janesville Gazette

UW-Whitewater students were left without heat and hot water Wednesday after an explosion destroyed a boiler on campus.

Michael Rybicki/Royal Purple
Firefighters examine the blown-out windows of the UW-Whitewater boiler room Wednesday after an explosion left the campus without hot water.
Seven workers were inside the power plant on the north side of campus at the time of the explosion and immediately evacuated. One worker received a minor abrasion to his knee. No other injuries were reported.

Contractors were performing routine maintenance on the backup boiler as part of a switch from natural gas to fuel oil, said Greg Swanson, director of facilities planning and management. Pressure built up in the fuel injectors and released fuel into the burner, which likely caused the explosion, he said. The cause is still under investigation, but no foul play is suspected.

The blast shook loose some asbestos that insulated the boiler, Swanson said, and until it is removed, the asbestos has the potential to become airborne. Esker Dining Hall, which is next to the power plant, was evacuated as a precaution and will remain closed until further notice.

On the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Virginia Tech, students feared the worst when they heard the explosion.

Classes were not disrupted, but students who were in their dorm rooms in nearby Fischer Hall could hear and feel the blast.

Freshman Matthew Jump lives on the second floor of Fischer Hall. He was working on a paper when he heard a boom.

"And then probably half the doors closed and everybody ran out to see what happened," he said.

The explosion blew out the windows of the power plant, covering the grass in shattered glass and gnarled metal. An odor filled the air. Some students reported seeing smoke billowing out of the blown-out windows and some reported seeing flames.

Seniors Frank Woppert and Adam Kavalauskus live off campus in a house on Tratt Street. They heard a crash and walked outside.

"It scared me a little bit," Woppert said. "I got a little jumpy."

Contractors have been hired to assess the damage at the power plant, contain the asbestos and begin cleaning up the debris and restoring heat and hot water to campus, Swanson said.

Officials couldn't provide a damage estimate.

"The damage looks worse from the outside," Swanson said.

Students were alerted to the explosion via e-mail and through announcements on the university Web site. They have been provided information about on-campus dining alternatives and the university has extended the hours of service at Drumlin Dining Hall on the west side of campus. Students also have been encouraged to close their dorm room windows to conserve heat, though temperatures are expected to stay relatively mild.

While the explosion didn't disrupt campus events, it was all students could talk about most of the afternoon and evening.

"It was a random Wednesday," Kavalauskus said, "but it turned out to be an eventful Wednesday."

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