Can stadium be flush with success? Plumbing: A plumbing test in the Ravens' new home turns into a big event with no shortage of volunteers to man the bathrooms.

July 15, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Consider it the Super Bowl of plumbing.

At 5: 30 tonight, several hundred volunteers, some of whom began vying for an invitation months ago, will take their assigned places in the freshly tiled bathrooms of the new Ravens stadium downtown.

Then, on cue, they will simultaneously flush more than 1,000 toilets and urinals to make sure the plumbing system works.

What started as a simple test of pipes and valves has, with the nudging of the team's public relations department, become a full-blown potty party dubbed "Super Flush." Hundreds of people have requested passes. Radio stations have awarded tickets to lucky callers. VIPs have been invited. An emcee hired.

"Baltimore loves stuff like this. I mean, all these people want to come and flush a toilet. You couldn't get away with this in L.A.," said Kirk McEwen, co-host of the morning show on 98 Rock, one of five stations with Super Flush tickets to give away.

A professional comic has even been hired to moderate the event.

"I've spent 12 years avoiding toilet humor, and then someone calls you up and asks if you would do some toilet jokes," said the comic, Roger Kent Mursick of Rockville, who will appear under the plumbing pseudonym Rusty Bidet.

All joking aside, the event has a serious purpose. Football fans are not kind to plumbing.

The stadium has a capacity of about 69,000 seats, nearly half again as many as Oriole Park. And unlike the leisurely stop-and-go action of baseball, which encourages fans to wander in and out of bathrooms, football's pace is such that everybody tends to rush the lavatories en masse.

"At halftime, you've got 15 minutes to go to the bathroom and get back to your seat. It's very high demand," said Joe Foltzer, a supervisor for Poole and Kent, the Baltimore-based plumbing contractor at the stadium.

The stadium is nearly completed and will open for a preseason game Aug. 8 with 1,074 toilets and urinals and 668 sinks.

Foltzer said the stadium has a water capacity of more than 30,000 gallons in three hot water tanks and 38 miles of pipe, which must be kept at a uniform pressure of 100 to 114 pounds per square inch by booster pumps. During a typical halftime, which is what is being simulated tonight, more than 100,000 gallons of water will be pumped in and discharged through underground pipes.

A couple of "mini-flushes" have been conducted by teams of stadium workers, revealing a few problems. A foot-wide rock was discovered blocking a sewer line and had to be removed. On another test, the water pressure was inadequate in the upper deck, leaving toilets gurgling instead of flushing.

Better that than the experience of Oriole Park, which opened without a mass flush in 1992. It was one of the first stadiums built in decades, and engineers had neglected to reacquaint themselves with a phenomenon first proved by an engineering student at the U.S. Military Academy in the early part of the century.

The student, with the help of some friends in a classroom building at West Point, showed that multiple users of a water system could create a mess if they turned the water on and off at the same time -- creating and then suddenly blocking a flow of thousands of gallons of water.

The resulting surge of water pressure blew pipes out of the building, said Sherman Kerbel, the Maryland Stadium Authority's director of facilities management, who read of the experiment in an engineering textbook.

That's similar to what happened during the first exhibition game at Oriole Park, when the valves on 30 to 40 toilets and urinals burst at mid-game, dousing fans unlucky enough to be using them at the time.

The problem was easily fixed by ratcheting down the water pressure. Most other stadiums and arenas around the country, learning of the Baltimore drenching, have held mass flushings.

Tonight's test will consist of a first wave of about 300 recruits stationed in each of the stadium's washrooms. Upon instructions from Mursick via the washroom speakers of the public address system, they will lean on nearby flushers or turn on faucets.

Then, after a count of 10 -- the minimum amount of time Foltzer figures it takes a speedy patron to use a toilet -- they will do it again. And again.

Mursick will then tell a few more jokes and a highlight film will roll on the stadium scoreboard. The test will be repeated, with another 300 volunteers, at 6: 10 p.m.

Foltzer will have a team of plumbers and contractors on hand, monitoring gauges and pumps.

The Baltimore Department of Public Works doesn't think stadium neighbors will notice anything unusual, as gravity keeps the water pressure high at Camden Yards, which is just a few feet above sea level and below almost every other building in the city.

"The area has plenty of pressure," said Public Works Director George Balog, who will be among the VIP flushers on hand.

Among those who wrote the team months ago asking to be included was Mark Balog, a 42-year-old building mechanic from Parkville who is not related to the city's public works director.

He and his wife, Joan, an elementary school teacher, have printed up T-shirts for the occasion bearing a drawing of an old-fashioned chain toilet and "I survived the Super Flush of 1998."

He's been entertaining office mates for weeks demonstrating his flushing technique with his hand.

"There's going to be a lot of people and a lot of fun. And I'm dying to see the new stadium," Balog said. "I'm really excited about it."

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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