BRATTLEBORO—A broken valve for a sprinkler line leading into the Paramount Building on 167 Main St. broke on Feb. 5, sending approximately 160,000 gallons of water cascading into the basements of a pair of downtown buildings.
But the owners of the two places most affected by the flooding — the Brattleboro Bike Shop and the neighboring River Garden — said it could’ve been infinitely worse.
Both credit the good fortune of the flooding happening mid-afternoon, rather than at night, and the quick response of the Brattleboro Fire and Public Works departments in preventing a major disaster.
Sometime between 2:30 and 3 p.m., the sprinkler line failed, and Tim Chock, co-owner of the Brattleboro Bike Shop, said the full flow of water from the broken line went directly into his basement.
“The fire department managed to keep up with all the water,” Chock told The Commons on Feb. 8, “but we still had 5 feet of water in the basement.”
The extent of damage in the basement was still being determined days after the flood, Chock said, but some bikes and other inventory there were underwater. The upstairs store was undamaged.
“It’s a good thing this happened in the afternoon,” Chock said. “If this happened in the middle of the night, there probably would have been a lot of damage to more buildings on Main Street.”
Penelope Wurr, owner of a gallery and shop in the other storefront on 167 Main St., said her business escaped serious flood damage.
“I did end up losing a few ornaments in my window because the [vibrations from the] jackhammer on the street today knocked them down. Otherwise, I am fine,” said Wurr in an email to The Commons on Feb. 7.
The River Garden, at 157 Main St., also saw flooding, and while it was not the torrent of water that flowed into the bike shop basement, it caused a significant amount of damage to the basement offices of Strolling of the Heifers, the nonprofit that owns and operates the building.
Executive Director Orly Munzing said three things helped avert major damage: the flooding happened in mid-afternoon, when staff and volunteers were in the building, the quick response from the town departments, and the equally quick response from Brunelle & Sons, a Dummerston construction firm who came at Munzing’s behest.
“Our staff and volunteers pitched in to help and John [Brunelle] had all his guys down here almost instantly,” Munzing told The Commons on Feb. 7. “They had the necessary equipment and they were able to dry things out. If this happened just a few hours later, it would’ve been a disaster for us.”
Munzing said she is also waiting for damage estimates from the Stroll’s insurance company.
A hard day’s night
According to DPW Director Steve Barrett, it took from about 3 p.m. on Feb. 5 to 3 a.m. the following morning to do initial repairs
Barrett said the sprinkler line was installed in 1993, when the Paramount Building was in the process of being rebuilt into office space, apartments, and storefronts after an April 1991 fire gutted the 700-seat Paramount movie theater.
Right next to the sprinkler line was a water control valve that Barrett estimated to be more than 100 years old. That also broke and sent a stream of water down the east side of Main Street.
The water caused a considerable amount of damage at the intersection of Main and High streets, undermining the sidewalk and a traffic island in front of the River Garden.
Barrett said water service and electrical power were turned off for several hours until Utilities Division crews contained the leak.
The DPW’s Utilities Division repaired the water line, removed the undermined and damaged sections of the sidewalk, and filled in the hole with gravel.
Weather permitting, Barrett said a thin coat of asphalt will be installed over the gravel until the sidewalk can be permanently restored in the spring.