The Carl Online

Tales from the Great Northfield Flood Part 1; Keeping the Waters at Bay by carlmagazine
October 8, 2010, 9:33 am
Filed under: Campus, Northfield, Society

An Interview with Kirk Campbell, Director of Maintenance and Custodial Services

By Lily Shieber

I got my rain boots wet, I even helped sandbag the Cannon, but amidst all this talk of the flood, I thought it would be interesting to hear from someone who was—and still is—in the thick of cleaning up the mess here on campus. Earlier this week, I sat down with Kirk Campbell, the Director of Maintenance and Custodial Services (and might I add, an extremely nice man), who, just about two weeks ago, was waist deep in the murky, black water in West Gym. For Mr. Campbell, that fateful Friday, September 24th, began with a phone call at 4 A.M., alerting him that the water alarms—yes, those exist—were going off. What followed was an all too typical plot of man versus nature, and nature was off to a roaring start. The attempts to keep the Cannon River water away from the stadium and West Gym with pumps and sand berms quickly turned into a lost cause, and as Mr. Campbell said, you have to know when to abandon ship. From then on, the available resources and manpower went towards keeping the water away from the electrical source that controls half of our campus. Power was shut down in the stadium, West Gym, and the nearby houses; yes, sacrifices were made, but it could have been much worse. For most of us, the immediate effects of the flood are mostly over, if not totally old news. For Kirk Campbell, the work has only just begun.

To understand Mr. Campbell’s most daunting challenge these days, you have to understand one word: plenum. Don’t know what that means? Neither did I. I now know that a plenum is a pipe that pumps air around a building. All plenums have insulation—insulation that cannot get wet. And can you guess what happened to the plenums in West Gym? Yup, those suckers got soaked. Unfortunately, the pipes in an older building like West have insulation on the interior, so each piece of plenum has to be removed and cleaned out, then replaced. Oh, and perhaps I should mention, as Mr. Campbell did with a smile, that some of these pipes are “big enough for you and me to walk through”. So before you complain about not being able to practice in West Gym, imagine ripping out pipes the size of an adult human, gutting them, fixing them up, and putting them back. Indeed, when I asked Mr. Campbell what we could do to help now that the flood has ended, he replied, “be patient!” Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Carleton can’t dry up in a week. Despite all the work that lies ahead, Mr. Campbell seems incredibly positive, and even willing to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation—he mentioned how strange it was to have his staff split between crisis management on one side of the road, and setting up inaugural festivities on the other. I asked how he would describe his job these past few weeks: “It’s been nutty,” he said. Here’s hoping that Kirk Campbell’s workday will be back to normal soon enough.