Sammy Westfall

Passersby walking on Tower Parkway Monday afternoon might have caught a glimpse of a peculiar sight — the Yale men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams were suited up for their practices when a burst pipe triggered a fire alarm and forced them outside of Payne Whitney Gymnasium in swimsuits, caps and goggles.

According to student-athletes who were in the building during the incident, a fire alarm first sounded at around 4:15 p.m. After several teams, including both swim teams as well as women’s squash, were cleared to return to the building, another fire alarm sounded shortly thereafter. While fire trucks appeared on the scene, police officers asked some to leave, and most athletes were sent home by their coaches while the burst was addressed.

The burst flooded the varsity gym on the fourth floor, where members of the men’s lacrosse team were training at the time. Their coaches and trainers directed them to evacuate using the staircase rather than the elevators, due to concerns regarding the water and electricity. By 9:30 p.m., most of the cardio floor had been cleared of water, but staff were still clearing water and debris from smaller connecting rooms.

The status of several teams’ practices for the near future is still undetermined, as the fourth floor varsity gym is currently closed indefinitely.

“Debacle is the right word [to describe the events following the burst],” said Aishwarya Bhattacharya ’21, a member of the women’s squash team, which was practicing in the squash courts on the fourth floor, across from the varsity gym, when the first alarm sounded. “We were all very confused by what was happening and why the alarm went off twice.”

Hanna Blankemeier ’21, a member of the women’s swimming and diving team, told the News that the pipe started leaking water into the pool as her team prepared to get in. Athletes evacuated due to the alarms, waited outside in the 50-degree weather and were denied access to their locker rooms and other facilities in the building. Additionally, athletes were told by security personnel to expect a long wait to return. Firefighters arrived on the scene at around 5 p.m.

As of Monday at 10 p.m., the women’s swim team was still unaware of what its practice schedule would look like for the upcoming days. The women’s squash team will continue on its normal morning and afternoon practice schedule but will not participate in lift practices due to the varsity gym’s closure.

In addition to the disruption to regularly scheduled athletic practices, the flooding also impacted a few contests. The women’s basketball team’s scheduled 6 p.m. scrimmage against crosstown rival Southern Connecticut State University was postponed after the flooding, according to Jessica Steffen ’20, a former member of the team.

Students hoping to use the athletic facilities on Monday evening were turned away at the front desk after seeing a whiteboard that read: “FOURTH FLOOR FITNESS CENTER CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE (as of 10/29/18).” The notice explained that due to a pipe burst, the fitness center is closed for repairs and cleaning. It also noted that the fitness center would likely be closed the following morning.

“It’s an unfortunate situation, but it hopefully won’t make too big a difference in people’s everyday lives. It should be cleaned up relatively soon.” said Charlotte Polk ’22, a fitness desk attendant on a shift Monday evening.

Administrators at Payne Whitney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Payne Whitney Gym provides more than 12 acres of indoor space.

Jane Miller contributed reporting.

Sammy Westfall |

Angela Xiao |