Hill House bridge is falling down


Both the Hill House and Van Wagoner House bridges are closed for repairs and are expected to open August 8, if not before, said Jim Zentmeyer, Director of University Housing.

Sam Schlenner

Oakland University’s Hill House bridge collapsed Sunday, June 8, around 6 p.m. No one was injured.

Both the Hill House and Van Wagoner House bridges are closed for repairs and are expected to open August 8, if not before, said Jim Zentmeyer, Director of University Housing. The Hill House bridge had been closed off for over a month when it collapsed.

Around dinner hour Sunday, June 8, a graduate assistant in Hamlin Hall recalled hearing a noise that sounded like a “backhoe dropping a load of dirt into the back of a truck” according to staff, Zentmeyer said.

About a year ago, OU did some waterproofing on the Hill House and Van Wagoner bridges, Zentmeyer said. In late April of this year, a housing ambassador noticed that the waterproofing had stretched and separated.

A student staff member was the first person to notify the university of this problem.

“She immediately contacted one of our professional staff, and we immediately shut it down, and OUPD jumped in with both feet to make sure we made it official,” Zentmeyer said.

Frank Moss, maintenance manager for university housing, immediately had the bridge shut down, according to Zentmeyer.

“OUPD was notified, barricades were put up, and the bridge was set as being off limits,” Zentmeyer said.

Facilities management hired SME, an engineering firm, to study the bridges.

Week by week, the bridge got worse.

“We could see daylight between some portions of the deck and sidewall,” Zentmeyer said.

The Friday before the collapse, university housing and facilities management proposed an emergency purchase to demolish and repour the bridges before the fall semester. They were supposed to contact the purchasing office on Monday, June 9.

“As far as demolition is concerned, we’re one bridge ahead of schedule,” Zentmeyer said. “It was our intent to make sure repairs were made before the bridge was ever opened again.”

The Van Wagoner bridge is about two years behind the Hill House bridge.

“We believe that, why wait two years?” Zentmayer said. “If we’re doing one bridge, let’s do the other. Let’s have economies of scale. Let’s get them both repaired ASAP.

“If the bridge was to collapse, it couldn’t have done it more perfectly. I mean, it pulled away from the building as it fell, something that they call the zipper effect: each of the connections received additional stress as another connection failed, and basically, it fell perfectly, quite frankly, and it did so rather discreetly through the night.”

“What we’re worried about is egress, for fire purposes,” said OUPD Chief Mark Gordon.

The bridges are the main entrances and exits of the building, which are crucial in a fire evacuation.

“We hope that the repairs are timely and done fairly quickly,” Gordon said.

The afternoon of Monday, June 9, seven groups of the university met to confirm the priority of the project, the method of repair and how to make it happen as quickly as possible.

“It’s actually fun to have everybody on the same page for a project,” Zentmeyer said.

Zentmeyer said the university will be extremely thorough handling this problem.

“Having this magnitude of an incident brought everybody to the table, and it brought them there in a hurry, which was wonderful.”