Business & Economy

Businesses trickle in after flooding in White River Junction building

Michelle Stroffolino, the lead server at Tuckerbox, hands out baklava and bread to Federico Moreno of TriState Curb on Friday, Aug. 19, in White River Junction. The restaurant is closed due to flooding in the Gates Briggs Building earlier in the week. Stroffolino was handing the food out to workers in downtown. Photo by Jennifer Hauck/Valley News

Editor’s Note: The story by Darren Marcy first appeared in the Valley News on Aug. 20.

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Some businesses were given the OK to reopen Friday as cleanup and repairs continued at the 130-year-old Gates Briggs Building following a water line break Monday evening that flooded the building’s basement with an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 gallons of water.

Hartford Fire Marshal Tom Peltier said he approved the temporary occupancy allowing business in the building to reopen Friday, after all conditions related to maintaining fire-safety systems were restored to good working order.

The water main feeding the sprinkler system still was being repaired Friday afternoon, but the system is set up so a pumper truck could supply water, which allowed occupants to reopen. There are no residential units in the building.

While some businesses were reopened in a limited capacity, others likely won’t be back for a week or more as they clean up. Kim Souza, owner of Revolution, announced her business would be closed through Aug. 29.

Although her basement had only about 8 inches of water, less than other parts of the building, she said silt left behind is still making a mess of things.

David Briggs, who manages the building for the family trust that owns it, said the cleanup will leave the building “as clean as new construction when they’re done.”

The line break that flooded the basement continued to cause problems Friday, as an 8-foot-deep sinkhole measuring 3 to 4 feet across opened up on the sidewalk along North Main Street near Tuckerbox.

Town Manager Tracy Yarlott-Davis said the town was closing the sidewalk and parking spaces along that side of the street until an engineer could determine the repairs that needed to be made.

Until the lines can be repaired fully and the water supply tied back into sprinkler system, restaurants Tuckerbox and Piecemeal Pies will be limited to a reduced occupancy, Yarlott-Davis said.

The Briggs Opera House upstairs is closed with no power and has not been cleared for occupancy.

Briggs said the electrical panel for the Opera House is in the basement and crews wanted to inspect it more carefully before determining if it was safe. One small theater production has been relocated to the Hotel Coolidge, Briggs said.

Briggs said the work is progressing, but it’s going to be up to the supply chain to determine how long the repair takes.

“The critical tasks are completely dependent on supply lines for equipment,” Briggs said, adding that two key pieces of equipment are normally on the shelf, but he won’t know their availability until Monday.

Once the equipment is in hand, the installation is a two-day job, Briggs said.

“That could be completed by the end of next week, but it’s also possible it could take an extensive amount of time,” Briggs said.

Ben Maynard, right, and Daniel Walter of RestorEAZE remove equipment from the basement of Tuckerbox on Friday. Flooding occurred on Monday, closing businesses on the block. Photo by Jennifer Hauck/Valley News

The building is under a “fire watch,” which requires the building owners to have a person on-site 24 hours a day.

“Literally, staff has to go through all of the building and make sure there are no issues going on,” Peltier said. “They walk through the building and make sure there are no hazards, fire, smoke, etc.”

Peltier said the building has been deemed structurally sound and any issues have been mitigated for the temporary occupancy, but the building will be reevaluated next week or sooner if conditions change.

“For the time being, all systems and components have been inspected,” Peltier said.

He said the fire alarm system is working and the electrical system is safe.

The cause of the flooding has been identified as a water line feeding the basement’s sprinkler system, which burst, filling the basement with waist-deep water before it could be shut off.

On Friday, Yarlott-Davis said the town was still reviewing the incident but said there was no indication construction in the area had anything to do with the break.

“We haven’t worked on that side of the building in over 40 days,” Yarlott-Davis said. “There was no indication of a pressure surge or anything of that nature.”

Briggs said he was going to wait before addressing those details.

“Experts and professionals will sort it out and look at the realities of it,” Briggs said. “We’ve documented it very, very well.”

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