Several classes were canceled yesterday after a mass power outage struck the northeast side of campus.

Around 11:30 a.m., Phelps Hall, the Girvetz School of Education, Military Science and labs 570 and 489 lost power when campus construction workers hit an unmarked underground pipe containing a 4,000-volt feed inside, effectively shutting down the electricity in surrounding buildings. The buildings’ power came back online at approximately 5:15 p.m. Monday.

UCSB Facilities Management electrical engineer David McHale said Felix Electric Company employees were working on the Electrical Infrastructure Renewal Project – a university effort to upgrade the electrical feed and safety standards throughout campus – when they hit the pipe.

McHale said the unmarked pipe lacked concrete casing and was probably placed underground before the school was built. When a backhoe struck the pipe, the main electrical protective devices, which are installed in all campus buildings, activated and turned off the power in surrounding buildings.

The lack of lights and power caused many buildings’ occupants to go home early and cancel classes, Arlis Markel, Girvetz School of Education manager said.

“When the power first went out around 11:30 we were told that it would only be for a couple of hours,” Markel said. “However, [Facilities Management] then said it wouldn’t return until 5 or 6, so most people went home.”

Although yesterday’s accident was the first such major instance, McHale said work on the Electrical Infrastructure Renewal Project would continue to be difficult because many of the dated power systems are poorly labeled, and many of the pipes are not compliant with modern safety standards. He said the old infrastructure was put in place decades ago when the land UCSB currently occupies was a military base.

The renewal project will eventually replace all of the campus power lines, which are situated underground and starting to fail, McHale said. Workers will encase the lines in concrete and set them three feet below the surface. He said Facilities Management is replacing old power lines with more reliable and more efficient systems for on-campus research labs than the older system currently in place.

The $20 million state and UCSB-funded infrastructure project began in 2003. McHale said he expects workers to finish by late 2007.