AUSTIN, Texas—Research facilities and those used for graduate student instruction in the 55-year-old Experimental Science Building at The University of Texas at Austin will be moved to the newly constructed Neural and Molecular Science Building after tests revealed deficiencies in the Experimental Science building’s natural gas lines.
After tests, conducted March 12, identified deficiencies in the natural gas system, natural gas was shut off to the Experimental Science Building at 24th Street and Speedway. Arrangements are being made to continue the undergraduate instructional activities in Experimental Science using alternatives to natural gas, but the building must be abandoned for graduate instruction and research that require natural gas use, according to Dr. Mary Ann Rankin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences.
Relocation of laboratories from the Experimental Science Building to the Neural and Molecular Science Building is expected to take about a month, Rankin said.
In response to a state fire marshal directive issued on Feb. 4, the university is evaluating natural gas distribution systems in non-residential buildings in accordance with National Fire Protection Association Fuel Gas Code. Testing of all university residential housing facilities was completed in September 2004 prior to release of the state fire marshal directive. The Experimental Science Building was the first non-residential building to go through pressure testing of natural gas lines.
The six-story Experimental Science building, which opened in 1950, was made a priority in the evaluation process when recent routine maintenance uncovered potential problems.
“The piping appeared extremely suspect,” said the university’s fire marshal, Garland Waldrop. “Experimental Science is a really old building with leaking roofs and walls. When maintenance workers moved the lab bench for a water leak repair, the natural gas piping was exposed and the condition of gas valves in this particular lab bench gave us cause for concern.”
According to Rankin, maintenance of old systems has long been a struggle for occupants of the Experimental Science Building.
“We are actually fortunate to be dealing with this issue now,” she said. “The new Neural and Molecular Science building (at Speedway and Dean Keeton Street) has some space intended for recruitment of new faculty that we can use to temporarily relocate these critical functions, but using the Neural and Molecular Science space for this emergency will severely constrain future faculty recruiting. The Experimental Science Building has now reached a point where the space is almost unusable for teaching and research.”
The university has a Tuition Revenue Bond request for renovating or replacing the Experimental Science Building pending before the state legislature.
The remaining university buildings with natural gas piping will be prioritized for evaluation based on the state fire marshal’s directive. Each building will go through a visual inspection and pressure leak test. University officials said they are confident their buildings containing natural gas systems will be fully compliant with the state fire marshal’s directive by the Sept. 1, 2006, compliance deadline.
For more information contact: Don Hale, 512-471-3151.