Months after burst pipe shut it down, rehabbed Ronald McDonald House reopens

“We called it ‘the Titanic with lights’ — because the lights never went out,” said Mardelle Gundlach, program director of the Ronald McDonald House in Hyde Park, said of the night a pipe burst and flooded the facility.

SHARE Months after burst pipe shut it down, rehabbed Ronald McDonald House reopens
The Ronald McDonald House at 5444 S. Drexel Ave., was heavily damaged in February when a pipe burst.

The Ronald McDonald House at 5444 S. Drexel Ave., was heavily damaged in February when a pipe burst.

James Foster/Sun-Times

It was like the sinking of the Titanic — but on land.

An explosion — then, in minutes, 3 feet of water in a guest bedroom and a river of water churning down a hallway. All this from a tiny cast iron pipe that cracked open at the Ronald McDonald House in Hyde Park during the thaw right after last winter’s “polar vortex.”

“That night, we called it ‘the Titanic with lights’ — because the lights never went out,” said Mardelle Gundlach, the facility’s program director.

Gundlach was treated like a hero Tuesday, as the building, at 5444 S. Drexel Ave., got set to reopen after eight months and a $3.1 million gut rehab.

“It’s gorgeous,” said Kayla Ybanez, who was living in the facility when fire alarms sounded in the middle of that February night. At the time, Ybanez’s daughter, Theresa, had just had a bone marrow transplant at nearby Comer Children’s Hospital.

Chicago has five Ronald McDonald houses, which allow parents to stay free of charge — for many months, if necessary — while their sick kids get treatment at a nearby hospital.

Eight families were staying at the Hyde Park one last February when the pipe burst.

Pipe that burst and caused half-a-million dollars in damage to Ronald McDonald House in Hyde Park.

This is the pipe that burst and caused half-a-million dollars in damage to Ronald McDonald House in Hyde Park. The home is reopening after a full rehab.

James Foster/Sun-Times

“It was definitely like something out of a movie — the water kept coming,” said Ybanez, who had to uproot her family after an 11-month stay. They were put up at a local hotel, staying into the spring, she said.

The water — pouring down ceilings, through light fixtures — collected, some two-feet deep, in the basement.

“Within 12 to 24 hours, this community rallied around us and we will forever be grateful for that,” said Holly Buckendahl, CEO for Ronald McDonald House Charities Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana. “This house truly looked like a war zone, and it was destroyed.”

It looked like a gleaming mansion Tuesday. But Gundlach was looking beyond the new paint, carpets and appliances.

“I’ll just be happy when families come — that’s what it’s all about,” she said.

Mardelle Gundlach, program director of the Ronald McDonald House in Hyde Park.

Mardelle Gundlach, program director of the Ronald McDonald House in Hyde Park. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

James Foster/For the Sun-Times

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