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Pipe bursts, Library closes for 6 hours

Kaitlynn Riely | Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Water flooded from the third floor of the Hesburgh Library to the basement after a pipe burst Monday morning, damaging approximately 1,500 books on the second floor, said Nigel Butterwick, associate director for user services at the library.

Water was “cascading” from the ceiling of the second floor on the west side of the building when Associate Vice President for News and Information Don Wycliff arrived shortly after the flooding was discovered.

Fire alarms went off throughout the building shortly after 9 a.m., Butterwick said, most likely due to a short circuit caused by the water that created smoke and a “smoldering situation.”

When library staff members left their offices to evacuate, they discovered water was dripping down from the ceiling on the second floor. The scene was “pretty disastrous,” Butterwick said.

“When we came in here, there was water all over the floor… and water dripping down all over the books,” he said.

The problem began when an air circulation fan on the third floor did not turn on and so did not circulate hot air around the pipes. A pipe froze in the sub-zero temperatures and when the air heated up again, it burst, Butterwick said. The third floor is a maintenance area and does not contain any books.

Most of the damage was on the second floor on the west side of the building, where approximately 8,500 books were taken off the shelves.

“The library staff was extremely diligent utilizing their resources to move the books that needed to be moved and also to protect the books on the book stacks,” Butterwick said.

Butterwick estimated the water in some way damaged 1,500 books, ranging from little to moderate damage.

“In some situations we might consider sending some books to be freeze-dried,” Butterwick said. “We are not in that situation. Nothing’s damaged to that extent.”

The flooded section on the second floor contained music and economic subject books, none of which Butterwick thought were irreplaceable.

After the books have dried, librarians will be able to assess the damage, Butterwick said. He said he could not estimate the monetary cost of the water damage.

The library closed Monday shortly after 9 a.m. Library officials decided to close the building when the water began spreading toward the stairs on the second floor, creating a potentially hazardous situation for library patrons, Butterwick said.

Butterwick led members of the media through the second floor Monday afternoon. Many of the book stacks were covered in plastic tarps and water was still dripping from the ceiling. Housekeeping staffers were mopping up the water that was still standing on the floor. On tables throughout the area, books were placed upright so fans could blow through the pages to dry them.

Some structural damage occurred due to the flooding, Butterwick said, mostly to ceiling tiles. The first floor was damaged slightly, but there was no damage to any library materials. There was no damage to any of the rare books and special collections area in the basement, since the library staff took precautions to protect against flooding after a similar incident in January 2004.

Cold temperatures three years ago and a broken damper on a heating/cooling unit led to flooding and damage on the first floor and in the basement of the library. Approximately 500 items were damaged in the flooding. After this incident, library officials developed a preservation plan in case of future incidents.

Butterwick praised the quick reaction of library staff and other University officials who helped clean up the water.

“The University community as a whole was extremely active and got engaged very quickly, with help from Notre Dame Security/Police, from facilities maintenance, housekeeping and many other parts of the University,” Butterwick said.

Butterwick said hundreds of people aided in cleaning up the flooding.

The library re-opened at approximately 3:30 p.m. on Monday. Parts of the library remained close so a company that specializes in dehumidifying large areas could work on the damaged parts of the building.