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Library suffers water damage

Joe Trombello | Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Water flooded parts of the lower level and first floor of the Hesburgh Library Jan. 8, leaving nearly 500 items irrevocably damaged, according to library officials.

A broken damper on the heating/cooling unit allowed cold air to rush in, rupturing between 10 and 16 coils. Sub-zero temperatures froze the water in the unit, which was later released through the ruptured coils when building facilities warmed the library back up as staff began their work day early Wednesday morning.

The water reached about 1 inch in depth in portions of the current periodicals room on the first floor, according to Nigel Butterwick, associate director for user services

“It looked like it was pouring rain into the periodicals room,” said Kelly Koski, manager of financial and administrative services for the university libraries.

Barbara Connelly, access services supervisor, said that approximately 490 items in current periodicals had to be discarded and about 500 items suffered water damage but still remain useable. Connelly said that her staff worked diligently to ensure that the room would be open for the first day of classes on Tuesday.

“We scrambled together,” she said, “but the current periodicals section is up and running.”

Jennifer Younger, director of university libraries, said that the majority of the discarded current periodicals will be replaced through either paper, electronic or microfilm versions. She noted, however, that there would be a gap of one or two months before replacement.

A few items that were lost will not be replaced, according to Younger, because these titles were cancelled effective this calendar year to cut costs.

Officials said that the cost to replace these materials will be relatively small, as current periodicals are easier to obtain than other sources and can be made available through a variety of mediums.

“We don’t need to replace much of [these] costs,” Younger said.

In addition to the current periodicals section, portions of the lower level, the faculty/staff lounge located on the first floor and the special collections area were also affected.

Lou Jordan, head of special collections, said that approximately 150-200 books in the rare books and special collection area of the library were suspected of suffering some water damage, although none were damaged irrevocably.

Jordan said that the vast majority of the damage was only to specially made plastic coverings that protect many of the rare books; Jordan estimated that only 15-30 books actually suffered some water damage and said that this damage was often confined to only a few pages and could be treated by the preservation staff.

“It was an emergency situation … but we really averted a disaster because of all of the people helping out,” he said.

He also said that approximately 20 staff members, including a team that responds to emergencies using specific preservation techniques, worked to save the rare books. He said that help from the police and fire department, as well as bystanders, ensured that no books were destroyed.

The department was closed for two days for repairs, Jordan said.

The Risk Management and Safety department quickly contracted a consulting firm, Munsters, to make repairs.

The firm has been removing and repairing the ruptured coils, using fans and special tubing pumping in dry air to remove moisture and cleaning carpets and other damaged areas. Younger and Butterwick said they expect the firm will complete its work today.

University facilities will absorb all costs associated with repairing the building, which leaves the library to foot costs associated with lost staff time.

Younger said that a final report of the library’s costs will be sent to risk management, which is in charge of the University’s insurance, in about one month for reimbursement; however, she said that she expects very little money.

“We don’t know whether there will be any money coming back to us,” she said. “[But this] doesn’t look to be a huge financial burden. It will mean some penny-pinching, but it won’t have an effect on next year’s budget.”

Library officials nonetheless said that the potential for damages could have been great compared to what was actually experienced. Butterwick said the flood’s occurrence at a time when students were not present and when the majority of library staff was available to assist in controlling the damage limited the event’s impact.

“The damage is not as high as might have been expected,” Butterwick said, “due to prompt action by library and other campus staff. I was very impressed by the way that people pulled together.”