The Great BIM Flood of 2023


On December 31st, while we were all relaxing on Winter Break and pondering our upcoming return to school, an unexpected email arrived in everyone’s inbox. It explained that grades 7 through 12 were going to be distance learning for one to two weeks due to a burst pipe in the building. What had happened? What do you mean more distance learning? Everyone had questions but not much was known at the time.

The malfunction actually started on December 26th, according to Mr. Shorbe and Ms. Tamayo, both of whom spoke with the BIM Bulletin. Sometime around 9:30 p.m. a sprinkler head in the maintenance room on top of room 318 broke, leading to mass flooding all around the building. Upon activation the sprinkler system alerts the fire department who came to investigate the matter. They turned off the water supply in the building, stopping any subsequent flooding, and then alerted the building’s contacts, Ms. Tamayo, Ms. Aust, and Mr. Vigil. Ms. Aust was able to come in and survey the damage. By the 27th, flood remediation contractors were surveying the situation, and the maintenance company had been alerted, having Ms. Segovia and Ms. Morales , along with our Facilities Coordinator, Mr. Vigil, on the scene drying things off. Ms. Tamayo told the BIM Bulletin that the work done by Ms. Segovia, Ms. Morales, and Mr. Vigil is one of the main reasons the building and the things inside it weren’t too damaged. Their quick and effective work minimized any extra impact.

Since room 318 is located below the maintenance room, it experienced the most damage. The water was mainly located in the walls of the school, causing leakage down to the second floor and a small section of the first floor, with the student lounge being the second most damaged room. Mr. Shorbe was on scene by the 29th. The priority for the administrative team was ensuring a safe return for students after break, and, after a conversation with the contractors, it was clear the damage would delay our return date. Since the walls captured a majority of the water, the classrooms and hallways were mostly protected, besides the affected sections of wall that had to be cut, dried, and drywall repaired.

As the construction started, Ms. Tamayo worked on finding the root of the issue. What had caused the sprinkler to malfunction? The answer: the cold. Located on the roof of the building above room 318 is a small maintenance closet where all of the piping is fed through, along with a heater to prevent any pipes from freezing. However, on the week of the 26th, the DMV area’s massive cold front catalyzed a heater malfunction and caused the pipes to freeze and subsequently break. The cold causes particles to expand, which is why during cold winters it is crucial to keep water pipes warm to prevent any damage.

This is around the time when the administrative team concluded that grades seven through twelve would have to remain online. The main reason these grades were chosen was because, as the oldest students, they had the most experience with distance-learning and the maturity needed for successful virtual education. On that day, the administrative team also concluded construction plans, and began work. Before classes returned post break, a third party contractor (not affiliated with BASIS Independent McLean or the Construction Company) tested the air quality on the first, second, and third floors, concluding that it was safe for classes to be held.

The air quality sign-off meant grades Pre-K to 6th could return in person on January 3rd with slight changes to their days. For grades two and below, not much had changed, besides the routes they took to different parts of the building. Grades three and above were now confined to one classroom all day in an effort to keep them away from construction spaces, with an exception for their special classes like Engineering, Art, and Drama. However, at this point, the affected hallways and classrooms had been separated and divided using tarps, with the portions of the school under construction even having a makeshift ventilation system to make sure no air would spill from one section of the building to the other.

After two weeks of distance learning, on January 12th, parents received the much awaited message that grades 7-12 would return to campus on Tuesday, January 17th. The damage disrupted two weeks of learning for the upper grades. Mr. Shorbe’s concern was that students would fall behind. However, he stated that he was proud of the high school for its diligent transition and work during the difficult time. Ms. Tamayo also reaffirmed that the construction teams were “pushing work as hard as [they] can,” trying to bring all grades back in person as soon as possible.

Many people had different reactions to the matter. Dr. Hight, who was interviewed by the BIM Bulletin on January 9th, stated that many teachers didn’t like distance-learning, but that he was “much more chill” about the matter. He told the BIM Bulletin, “I would rather be in the classroom, but there are pluses and minuses [to distanced learning],” stating that while younger grades struggle to manage their time properly, for high school, it’s not really an issue at all. He also stated that seminars, which are crucial in history classes, are very effective on Zoom, with people able to write side questions using the chat function that the group can go over later. The extra benefit of being home is also nice. Dr. Hight told the BIM Bulletin, for example, “I get to workout when [there’s] daylight outside.” While his room was one of the worst affected, he also stated that not much of his stuff was damaged since he didn’t do much decoration in the first place. “I got three maps replaced but otherwise it’s fine.” He told the BIM Bulletin, “Maybe my globe was damaged, but it’s all cool.”

With all grades returning back on campus, the BIM Community has effectively weathered the storm, with insignificant impact on learning. The BIM Bulletin would like to extend our heartfelt appreciation to Ms. Tamayo, Ms. Segovia, Ms. Morales, and Mr. Vigil as well as the construction company working on the school, Mr. Shorbe, and the operations team for keeping our health and safety as their top concern. Their hard work has made it possible for the building to be safe for learning.