SARANAC LAKE - Firefighters and village workers spent Christmas Eve pumping out the basement of the Hotel Saranac after it flooded with at least 6 to 10 feet of water.
The source of the flooding, it was later determined, was a sprinkler line that froze and broke. Fred Roedel III, whose family business bought the hotel earlier this month, said that's what he was told by a plumber from Snickles Plumbing and Heating who was on the job.
"The building was being heated," Roedel said. "Evidently, this pipe was out by a loading dock door, and it got cold. This is one of those embarrassing, ugly things, and I hate to put the village through it.
A village of Saranac Lake front-end loader clears snow and ice from a storm drain in the Hotel Saranac parking lot Tuesday. The drain was opened up so water from the hotel’s flooded basement could be pumped to it.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"It's probably not the last fun thing this building is going to do for me," he added ruefully.
John Wamsganz, who's been overseeing the property since it was bought earlier this month by Roedel Companies, said he went to check the hotel's basement this morning because "the fire alarm wasn't reacting the way it was supposed to." That's when he discovered all the water.
"I was out front looking at Berkeley Square, and John (Wamsganz) comes up to me and says, 'Hey, I got a problem,'" said village Manager John Sweeney. "He goes, 'We got water in the basement.' We went over and took a look. He's got water in the basement alright."
Wamsganz said he's been checking the building every day but didn't discover the water in the basement until this morning. He said it had probably been filling up for at least 24 hours.
Sweeney speculated it may have been going on for longer than that.
"Our guess is late Friday night," he said. "That's when we started to notice that our water consumption had popped up."
Don Irvine, who works for Snickles Plumbing and Heating, said he believes a water pipe in the basement broke and the drain from the building froze, so the water had nowhere to go but up.
Snickles showed an Enterprise reporter a stairwell near the hotel's lobby that leads to the basement. The water was more than halfway up the stairwell, almost to the ceiling of the basement. That was around 10:40 a.m.
About two-and-a-half hours later, Saranac Lake Fire Chief Brendan Keough said the water was probably 6 to 10 feet deep in the upper part of the basement but likely deeper in a lower part that includes the building's boiler room. The water also got into the hotel's elevator shaft, he said.
"It's a lot of water," he said. "It was probably a foot to 2 feet from the ceiling of the basement, if that gives you any idea how much water was there, from one end of the building to the other."
Once the water in the basement was discovered around 10 a.m., Sweeney said he contacted Jeremy Evans, the village's acting code enforcement officer. A National Grid crew was brought in to cut power to the building, village Department of Public Works employees shut off water to the building and located the storm drains and manholes around the hotel, which were covered in snow and ice. They used blowtorches to melt the ice from the frozen manhole covers.
Saranac Lake firefighters were called to the scene around 10:30 a.m. They set up portable generators and pumps, and ran hoses from the pumps to the storm drains and manholes. The water started flowing out of the basement around 11 a.m. A half-dozen pumps, including a pair borrowed from the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department, were being used. The fire department was also siphoning water from the basement using hoses attached to a pair of fire trucks.
At one point, firefighters were called to the hotel's ballroom for another water leak. Keough said it was an isolated leak in the celling that wasn't related to the basement flooding. He speculated the water may be coming in from a flat roof next to the ballroom, where it pooled up on the floor.
The water-removal operation in the basement of the hotel was expected to last through much of the day, possibly into Christmas.
"Hopefully we get done soon enough so I can go finish my Christmas shopping," Keough said. "I'm hoping we wrap this up by 5 o'clock. We're only going to get it so far, and then it will be up to the owners because our pumps can only draw so far. We'll probably end up leaving an inch or so on the floor."
Sweeney said people attending Christmas Eve services this afternoon and evening at St. Bernard's and other churches won't be able to park on Academy Street, which is closed to vehicle traffic.
Roedel Companies, which is based in New Hampshire but has longtime ties to Saranac Lake, bought the hotel from the Arora family on Dec. 6 for $1.4 million. The following week, the company was awarded $5 million from the state to put toward its overall $13 million plan to buy and renovate the iconic Main Street building, which was constructed in 1927.
Fred Roedel III, a principal in Roedel Companies and the head of its construction wing, ROK builders, is spearheading the project. He said the flooding "doesn't slow us down, doesn't change our plans."
After the water is pumped out of the basement, Roedel said, "We're going to get some heaters in and some dryers and start getting it cleaned out."
The company will continue its plan for a serious cleaning effort in January.
"Quite honestly, the building is just full of garbage," Roedel said. "We anticipated four to six weeks just to clean it out. It was full - full."
Furniture from the guest rooms will go to Family Champions, a charity based in Tupper Lake, as arranged by previous owner Sewa Arora.
Roedel said the sprinkler system was one of the things his company planned to assess for possible replacement.
"I think everything in the building is subject to being replaced," he said.
Roedel said the basement structure is "solid as a rock" and he doesn't know of anything damaged by the flood that would set back his plans, although he added, "We'll know soon enough."
Managing Editor Peter Crowley interviewed Fred Roedel III for this report.