The Great Thomas Library Flood of 2014

Water damage in Thomas Library, January 2014, in the Audio Visual Services Area.

Water damage in Thomas Library, January 2014.

During the deep freeze of January 6-7, 2014, a heater water pipe at the west entrance to Weaver Chapel froze and cracked. Due to the extremely cold temperature it sat there, frozen. No one knew it was waiting to thaw and create a flood situation.

As the temperatures rose later in the week, it finally reached the point where the water could start flowing and in the early morning hours of January 10, 2014, the trickle began, soon to become a torrent of water spreading out onto the floor of the entrance to Weaver Chapel. A report was made, but no one knew the greater damage being done below the stone-floored entrance to the chapel.

Water will find its lowest level and with three floors of Thomas Library below the chapel, the water began to work its way down crevices, cracks and pipes. It entered the Library in Room 343 (formerly known as the Barbara Steel Kane Room), which is located directly below the west entrance to Weaver Chapel. Physical Plant staff arrived on the scene, along with WFF housekeeping staff. The water was turned off, but the damage was done.

There were places in the Library (in the D call number section on the third floor) that had an inch or more of standing water on the carpet. Ceiling tiles had collapsed on book shelves and books were water damaged. Library staff responded by putting plastic sheets over the locations where the water had come through to prevent further damage.

Once the water was fairly well removed, library staff began the task of assessing the situation, determining how many books had suffered damage and how to handle those items. Staff removed books from the shelves and separated them into two groups: the first being those books that were severely waterlogged and the second being those with peripheral water damage.

A call was made to Noah Ristau, Dining Services Director, to see if space in their freezers was available. Noah did not hesitate and agreed to accept the severely water damaged items. (The idea of freezing water-soaked books may sound strange, but it is the commonly accepted practice. It stabilizes the book, prevents mold from growing and gives us time to determine the next steps with these items).

Approximately 400 books were damaged. About half were wet enough to send to the freezer. The other half have been air-drying. We will soon begin the evaluation process to see if any of them are salvageable.

Water damage in Thomas Library, January 2014, in the third floor book stacks.From the third floor the water continued its downward path and made its way into the Audio-Visual Department. Fortunately, the area it fell on was mostly bare concrete floor, but there was some equipment that got wet and may be damaged. There was some water intrusion in a few spaces with carpeting, but those areas appear to be drying out now.

Finally, a small amount of water made it all the way to the lowest level of Thomas Library which houses Special Collections/Archives and Storage. We were very fortunate in that the water that made it this far did not land on any collections, just empty shelves. There was no damage to any university archives, special collections or journal storage.

At this time we still have fans blowing on the carpet to get it dried out. You can still see the collapsed ceiling tiles, but we are open for business in all areas.

I would like to thank the staff members of Physical Plant, WFF (housekeeping), Noah Ristau and Dining Services and Thomas Library for all their help and assistance during this trying time.

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