The Burton Barr Central Library is closed indefinitely after Saturday’s storm damages. The library’s regularly scheduled events and programs will be disbursed to other local public libraries.
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An emergency incident response team works at Burton Barr Library in Phoenix to help clean up after a monsoon storm hit central Phoenix on July 15, 2017.
Phoenix Fire Department
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Workers help clean up Burton Barr Library in Phoenix after monsoon storms damaged the library on July 15, 2017.
Phoenix Fire Department
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Reda Riddle-Bigler talks about the damage caused after a microburst storm broke a sprinkler head and flooded the phoenix library causing a shutdown.
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The Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix was significantly damaged from Saturday’s monsoon storm.
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Much of Burton Barr’s collection spared from damage
Cleaning up Burton Barr Library after storm
Burton Barr Library in Phoenix recovering after monsoon damage
Phoenix fire captain explains flooding at Burton Barr Library
The Burton Barr Central Library damaged from Saturday’s storm
Phoenix officials have no timeline for when they expect to reopen Burton Barr Central Library after the building was severely damaged in a powerful weekend monsoon storm.
A massive cleanup effort was underway Monday as the city worked to dry out the building and assess which books and equipment was ruined. About 200 employees have been reassigned to other libraries.
But city officials released few other new details about the incident. The city has not given an estimate for the potential cost of the damage, but did confirm its property insurer is investigating the loss.
The five-story library flooded Saturday night when the storm caused a fire sprinkler pipe to burst, officials said. Water cascaded from the roof onto bookshelves and quickly spread through the building.
Another monsoon storm tore through the Valley on Sunday night, but library spokeswoman Lee Franklin said the building sustained “no further damage” from that storm.
Focus on restoring service
Now, the city is focused on restoring service at the library, an architectural focal point of the downtown area that opened in 1995 on Central Avenue near McDowell Road.
“Burton Bar Central Library is the heart of our community, it’s the heart of our library community … a very, very important and treasured asset,” said Rita Hamilton, the city’s head librarian.
Thousands of books were drenched in the downpour, which started in the building’s northwest corner, but Franklin said much of the library’s collection was spared. Little water also reached the rare-book collection and historic Arizona archives.
Assistant Phoenix Fire Chief Scott Krushak said the department is doing everything it can to help reopen Burton Barr. He said firefighters have moved books and covered them so cleaning crews could work around them.
Krushak said the library was up-to-date in all codes and fire inspections and that nothing from those inspections would have lead the city to believe something was at risk of breaking in a storm.
“It’s heartbreaking for the community because it is a refuge for many, especially from the heat, which is why we are working very hard and as quickly as possible to assess the damage and get it back to normal,” Krushak said.
‘Never seen anything like this’
Fire Capt. Steve Beuerlein, president of the firefighters’ labor union, was among the first responders who rushed to the library Saturday night after an emergency alarm sounded.
He said he initially expected the call to be something minor, but was shocked to see water rushing down the library’s west wall and onto bookshelves.
“You’ve always think you’ve seen it all,” said Beuerlein, a 31-year veteran. “I’d never seen anything like this before.”
At first, he said, the firefighters couldn’t figure out where the water was coming from.
Beuerlein and others scaled a maintenance ladder to inspect the roof, thinking there must be a leak but there didn’t appear to be a break in the roof’s membrane. But the metal and concrete-tile roof was so damaged, it looked like “rolling hills.”
After roughly two agonizing hours, according to the city, the sprinkler line was shut off.
City officials said the storm lifted the building’s roof and caused it to move in a wave-like fashion. The sprinkler line broke when the roof slammed back down.
But the damage had been done. All five of the building’s floors flooded as the sprinkler gushed out water at a rate of about 60 gallons of per minute; a fire hydrant sprays about 90 gallons per minute.
Beuerlein said firefighters quickly shifted their efforts to help save books and equipment until a building restoration crew arrived to help with the cleanup.
“We were able to save so much,” he said. “So many books.”
DiCiccio raises liability question
Library spokeswoman Franklin said the city is using grant money to help pay for its emergency-response and cleanup efforts.
But at least one city leader, Councilman Sal DiCiccio, is questioning whether the building’s architect or contractors could be liable for a “significant design oversight.”
“While I understand it is still very early in the investigation, I would like to inquire as to whether or not there is potentially any liability for the architect/contractors in the Burton Barr incident,” DiCiccio wrote in a letter to City Attorney Brad Holm.
DiCiccio posted the letter on Facebook. He questioned why, if the building’s flexible roof is designed to move in a storm, its fire suppression system was not designed to also flex or was not attached differently so movement of the roof would not damage the sprinklers.
Phoenix architect Will Bruder, who designed the library, referred questions about DiCiccio’s post to the city. On Sunday, he said the building’s roof had performed as designed.
City spokeswoman Julie Watters released a statement Monday night regarding the issue.
“The city’s property insurer is investigating the loss,” Watters wrote. “They will prepare a report of the causes of the flooding. We’ll get a copy of the report and will determine the city’s options at that point.”
Republic reporter Yihyun Jeong contributed to this article.
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