SUNY Cortland official: Too soon to say what caused explosion that sent 3 to hospital

Cortland, N.Y. — All three contractors taken to the hospital in an explosion at SUNY Cortland on Wednesday were released in time for Thanksgiving, according to Fred Pierce, a spokesperson at the college.

It’s too early to say what caused the blast, which occurred as construction crews worked Wednesday morning on the school’s new $51.2 million Student Life Center, Pierce said in an interview Monday. A report is expected from a fire investigator with the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, according to Pierce.

Staff from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has also been on scene to investigate the explosion and ensure the site’s safety, Pierce said.

“There should be no cause for concern because we’re not doing anything that’s not safe to do,” Pierce said.

(A CNY Central report with good visuals of the building:)

All three sub-contractors were taken to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. A worker for the Matco Electric Corporation ended up not needing to be admitted. Two workers with the plumbing contractor Picciano were released the next day.

The electrical worker, Winthrop Wickwire, of Skaneateles, was shaken up. Pierce said the plumbing sub-contractors — Codd Hurlburt of Greene; and Thomas Brightsen, of Whitney Point — suffered more severe injuries.

Pierce said it’s also too early to say if there was structural damage to the new facility. Construction has resumed in most of the building — though it’s unclear if there will need to be a new deadline for completion of the center, which is located between the school’s upper and lower campuses.

“We’re still assessing the amount of damage,” Pierce said. “The explosion did knock out a wall panel … the size of a garage door.”

The release of the workers from the hospital was a relief for those at the school, according to Pierce.

“It was certainly scary for the people who were near it when it happened,” Pierce said, adding that students weren’t in the area because of the new center’s location. “We were very worried.”