WATERTOWN, NY — On January 5, 2023, Sci-Tech discovered up to 3 feet of water totally filling the basement of its museum facility in Downtown Watertown. As a totally volunteer organization, Sci-Tech’s building is only open a few days each week, during regular museum hours, during scheduled classes and programs, and at other times for reserved school groups.
Apparently, at some point during the previous 24 hours while the building was unoccupied, a valve on the fire suppression system had burst. This allowed about a 1 inch stream of high pressure water to infiltrate the basement. The valve was one of 2 just inside the basement wall, where the 4 inch pipe enters the building. The reason for the break is not known. In fact, the fire suppression system had undergone its annual inspection less than 2 months earlier.
The Watertown Fire Department responded quickly, and immediately began pumping water out of the basement. After almost 4 hours of pumping, the water at the high end of the basement was down to less than 4 inches – the minimum that could be achieved with their high pressure pump. (The basement slopes from North to South about 12 inches because of its original French Drain system.)
As the Fire Department packed up their equipment, it was expected that the remaining water would slowly evacuate through the existing basement sump at the base of the French Drain. (Not a pumped sump, just a cavity through which water slowly seeps into the ground.) However, by the next morning, water had only receded about 1 inch – the sump had been overwhelmed by the flood.
With a call to the Fire Department, they again quickly responded with a different pump. Although much slower than the pump used the previous day, it could be lowered into the sump, and removed the remaining water in about 5 hours.
Sci-Tech needs to applaud the Watertown Fire Department, and especially the firefighters at the Massey Street Station not just for their rapid response, but for their incredible professionalism throughout Sci-Tech’s ordeal. They were constantly providing advice and suggestions which helped us to mitigate the damage to Sci-Tech and its contents.
Unfortunately, the basement is Sci-Tech’s primary storage area, as well as the location for numerous building systems. Thus, not only were the heating system, electrical system, and phone/internet system damaged, but hundreds of artifacts, records, exhibit components, materials and supplies were also damaged or destroyed. Some of the damage is easily apparent, but some will not be fully known until much later. For example, the high efficiency boiler was partly underwater, but until electricity can be restored, the extent of damage to it will remain unknown.
The most devastating mechanical problem is the building’s electrical system. An electrical inspection determined that our entire switchgear needs to be replaced. Although there was some prior corrosion due to long-term moisture leaking into the electrical vault through the sidewalk, the flood severely exacerbated the situation. The electrical inspector indicated that National Grid will not reconnect our existing equipment to the downtown micro-grid. Not only will restoration of power be an expensive proposition, but a slow one as well. Much of the necessary equipment is tied up in “supply chain delays.” In an attempt to reduce the delay, an electrical contractor is looking into the opportunity to use some parts still in good condition that were removed from other sites.
Because the water only directly affected materials in the basement, all of Sci-Tech’s exhibits in the public museum areas remain safe. However, stored exhibits, exhibits in preparation, replacement materials for exhibits, supplies for outreach programs, computers, equipment, and records were damaged or destroyed. In addition, many historic artifacts were also damaged or destroyed. Although the highest water was about 3 feet deep, high humidity affected materials stored on higher shelves as well. Luckily, all Sci-Tech’s telescopes were stored with their mirrors above the level that water reached, and thus were not harmed.
Since the water was removed, Sci-Tech has been taking appropriate actions to minimize any additional damage to its materials, moving artifacts to drying locations, removing sources of continuing high humidity and mold growth, and rescuing materials that were inundated. Volunteer work crews have inspected, moved, and dried numerous objects, have disposed of hundreds of pounds of soggy cardboard, damaged materials, and delaminated signs, and have prepared for the continuation of Sci-Tech’s outreach programs.
Sci-Tech’s Traveling Science Program is continuing at various outreach sites (such as Wacky Science Night at Wilson Elementary School in Adams Center on March 24), and hands-on Science displays (such as at Guardino Elementary Science Fair in Clayton on April 28). In addition, we have already scheduled Telescopic Outdoor Astronomy nights for July 27 and August 28). We will continue scheduling such offsite programs and presentations at locations around the community. Unfortunately, programs such as already scheduled Birthday Parties at Sci-Tech, have had to be canceled.
As there is no heat in the building,we have winterized the building to protect its mechanical systems from additional damage – the Sprinkler system has been drained, the heating system has been drained, and the plumbing system has also been drained and protected with antifreeze.
Sci-Tech has been very pleased with the rapid and informative response from the museum community. Well-considered advice, ideas, and guidance has been provided from local museum organizations such as the Museum Association of New York, as well as our sister science museums around the Nation. We have been in contact with many, especially others that have experienced recent forced long-term closure of their facilities due to natural or mechanical disasters. Two of whom are located here in New York State.
Unfortunately, all indications point to the Sci-Tech building being out-of-service for many months – exactly how long will not be known until we have a better understanding of the delays in the equipment supply and re-connection challenges with the electrical system. Since the beginning, Sci-Tech has been working with the City Code Enforcement office, Electrical inspectors, and local contractors, and appreciates all of their help, advice, and assistance.
During this temporary closure of Sci-Tech’s museum, our challenge will be raising the funds necessary – not just to re-open the building, since insurance will not cover everything – but the funds to maintain the day-to-day operation as with the building closed, sources of earned income (such as admission fees, membership fees, most program fees, and gift shop sales) have vanished.
Additionally, with the museum out-of-service, Sci-Tech is looking for a temporary location where some of its hands-on exhibits can be set up to maintain public visibility of the organization. It is hoped that a local business or organization will be able to donate the use of such a space for a temporary display, lasting at least a few months.
While the building is closed, Sci-Tech will also be using that time to prepare new exhibit experiences, upgrade some of its existing exhibits, and prepare for an upgraded and better museum for our community upon reopening.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Sci-Tech at: https://gofund.me/4ea0a8e6, or donations may be made directly to: Sci-Tech Center, 154 Stone Street, Watertown, NY 13601.