This week in Villanova History: University Shuts Down

By David Poma and Bob Herman ’81

Emergency repairs on a 42-inch water main in North Wayne forced the cancellation of all classes, reorganization of meals, and the closing down of all offices at Villanova University on Tuesday morning.

Rev. Lawrence C. Gallen, O.S.A., vice president for academic affairs, received word from Father President Driscoll’s office and immediately cancelled classes. To spread the news around the campus, Gallen said, “I called just about everyone I could talk to.” The administration, according to Gallen, had to act quickly to avoid any difficult problems.

For example, Gallen commented that, “Les Gies did a marvelous job with the moving and serving of food.” Meals were served in St. Mary’s Hall and the Law School, since the water shortage affected neither building.

Eugene Ruane, director of public relations, received word from Gallen that Philadelphia Suburban Water Company was working on the pipe and that this was causing severe loss of pressure, and in some buildings a complete lack of water.

“Father Gallen told me that the water problem meant that classes had to be suspended,” said Ruane. “I wondered why we didn’t know about it.”

Ruane then called the water company and spoke to Mr. Jerry Sacchetti, vice-president for public relations. “He told me that it was a planned repair of a broken metering device. I asked why we weren’t told ahead of time, since almost 10,000 students would be affected by the cancellation of classes,” said Ruane.

Ruane also questioned why no police or fire companies were notified in case of a fire.

Rev. Robert Martin, O.S.A., dean of students, also wondered why the water company did not notify local authorities. “We could have developed a plan of action and minimized the effect. We could have arranged a time other than in the middle of the week,” said Martin.

When he learned of the problem, Martin met with Gies to arrange a plan for serving food. Martin said, “I thought if we acted quickly, we might have a fighting chance.” Martin added that no meals could be served in the Dougherty Hall, because the lack of water posed a serious fire hazard.

Dinner for resident students started at 3:30 p.m., one hour earlier than usual, and was served in St. Mary’s Hall and the Law School. Times were staggered at 30-minute intervals. Martin explained, “It’s advantageous to stagger the students, otherwise they would all come over at once and have to stand in line.”

The Villanova maintenance department heard of the problem at about 9:00 a.m. Tuesday. Director of Maintenance Thomas Trucks, who was also not notified by the water company, commented, “It’s only partially true that it was a scheduled repair. This morning it started to leak very badly.”

Dr. Richard Neville, vice president for student life, contacted Martin and explained the water difficulties. Martin added, “We were concerned mainly with the bathroom situation.”

Classes were cancelled, according to Martin, so that people would leave campus, and this would reduce the strain on the water system.

The maintenance department spoke with Sacchetti at the water company. Assistant Director of Maintenance Ed Meagher added, “He asked us what normal pressure was. When we told him what we were actually getting, he said it wasn’t enough.”

Sacchetti insisted that Villanovan always had the necessary 40 pounds of pressure, but Trucks commented, “We were actually getting 10 to 12 pounds for most of the day.”

He added that there was no doubt that the repair was an emergency. “Usually, when there’s a scheduled repair to be made, we try to arrange it with the water company so that the repair work is done on a vacation or during the summer, so that not as many people here are affected.”

In addition to the problem of low water pressure, another problem on campus developed. It became increasingly difficult to complete a telephone call, but Mrs. Jeanne O’Neill of the Dean of Students office explained, “the phone system is water-cooled, so there must be a problem there also.”

Driscoll was in Philadelphia at the time classes were cancelled. He said, “Normally, if the President were here, he would make the decision. Father Gallen and Ed Fenner in personnel made the decisions respectively to cancel classes and to allow the staff to go home.”

Driscoll agreed with their decisions, saying, “We might as well send everyone home for a half of a day. You can’t keep people around without water and toilets. Closing up was the humane thing to do.”