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Burst Pipe Forces 'Let's Go' Above Ground

By Simon W. Vozick-levinson, Crimson Staff Writer

Ever since a pipe burst in May in the basement of Let’s Go headquarters, the travel guide’s editors and writers have learned about a different kind of tourism—instead of Fiji or the Mediterranean, they have been forced to relocate a few floors upstairs to the company’s already-crowded cubicles, and will have to foot a very expensive bill for repairs.

As a result of water damage and mold contamination, the student group’s basement at 67 Mt. Auburn St. will be unusable until at least mid-August, said Robert Rombauer, the general manager of Harvard Student Agencies, of which Let’s Go is a subsidiary. The basement will require major renovations totalling about $50,000.

HSA also had to foot the bill for replacing the broken pipe underneath the street outside—a cost which insurers refused to cover, said Rombauer, on the grounds that they cannot reach the underground plumbing to adequately evaluate and insure it. The price tag for repairing the damaged pipe was estimated at between $40,000 and $50,000—bringing the total costs up to almost two percent of HSA’s $5.3 million budget.

“It hurts our bottom line,” Rombauer said. “Years ago the city would have taken responsibility, but today whether you have a home or a commercial building, you own the pipe.”

And the hefty costs come at an inopportune time for HSA’s coffers, which it has seen shrink with the national economy recently. As a result of the souring market, Rombauer said, HSA does not expect to be profitable this year—so the funds for the basement renovations will come directly from its cash reserves.

According to Rombauer, the pipe—which led from Let’s Go’s basement to the Cambridge sewer system—gave out under the pressure of old age.

“It’s probably over 100 years old,” he said. “It just rotted out over time, and we had no indication.”

It took time for Let’s Go workers to notice the results of the breakage.

“It wasn’t as if you had this all-of-a-sudden gush,” he said. “[The water] was seeping under the foundation.”

But once Let’s Go workers in the basement observed the seepage and “a distinct odor,” Rombauer said, they wasted no time in relocating.

“We got people out of there pretty quickly,” he said.

They have remained out of the basement since, said Julia A. Stephens ’04, the publishing director of Let’s Go. Stephens said the 18 displaced Let’s Go employees had been working on six guides, including all Let’s Go guides to domestic locales.

But she said the relocations had proved only a minor inconvenience.

“People are a little more in tighter quarters than they usually are,” she said. “But other than that we’ve made it work.”

After the basement was vacated, Rombauer said, the pipe’s repairs had to wait for permits from Cambridge officials—while heavy rains exacerbated the backup.

“They really delayed us substantially,” he said.

And when three weeks of pipe repair were done and HSA was ready to turn to renovating the basement, he said, Let’s Go found another problem downstairs—a mold infestation which had grown there while the plumbing repairs were in the works.

Though Rombauer said private tests had found that the mold was not of a lethal variety, HSA adopted a better-safe-than-sorry attitude and installed a containment system to ensure that no dangerous spores leaked to other floors of Let’s Go.

“There’s mold in the air all the time, and as far as I know there’s no mold standard, but any mold to me is something you don’t want to have,” he said.

Sam Lipson, Cambridge’s Director of Environmental Health, said his officers had not conducted any tests on the mold at Let’s Go.

—Staff writer Simon W. Vozick-Levinson can be reached at

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