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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Flood damage lingers as term looms

Destruction is especially severe in UNM's subterranean Centennial Library

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

The walls of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Building are exposed and ready for repair on Wednesday afternoon. Several UNM buildings, including Centennial Library and Hodgin Hall, were damaged during the storm that swept through Albuquerque on Aug. 1.

Back-to-back rainstorms resulted in damage to almost 40 buildings on the UNM main campus last week.

Some of the departments hit hardest include the School of Engineering, the recently remodeled Honors College, Hodgin Hall and the Centennial Library located underground.

Nancy Dennis, associate dean of the Centennial Library, said she has yet to find out the extent of the damage after hearing that there was standing water in the library.

“All those things kind of start filtering through your head when you get that phone call at 3 o’clock on Saturday morning, and you know it’s not good news,” Dennis said.

The first step to salvaging any damaged books starts with calling a book restoration company that will freeze the saturated material and thaw it out over a slow, tempered process, she said.

Ninety boxes of damaged books were sent to the BMS CAT Disaster Restoration plant in Fort Worth, Texas for the restoration process to begin, Dennis said.

“If print and books stay wet in a high-humidity and high-temperature environment, then mold can start growing in that material,” she said.

The normal response time for saving print materials after they’ve become wet is 48 hours, she said. The freezing of the books will stop any potential breakdown or mold growth, she said.

“The books are placed into a kind of a vacuum chamber at BMS CAT, and they slowly lower the temperature,” Dennis said. “As they lower it the water stays as an ice crystal, so instead of that ice crystal melting and causing the same damage in the book it actually takes that moisture out as an ice crystal.”

The cost of this service is broken down by experts who analyze what was damaged, what was packaged, labeled and shipped, she said. The plant’s service is also taken into consideration along with repacking the items and shipping them back to UNM.

“This is not an inexpensive proposition, and so that makes you very selective about what materials you will actually send,” Dennis said.

UNM used BMS CAT in 2006 when the Zimmerman Library basement caught fire and needed materials salvaged, she said.

“Some 30,000 volumes were lost to the fire, and then we packed out another 200,000 volumes that were cleaned for water and smoke damage,” Dennis said.

Dennis would like to see bigger drains and more of them in the future in order to prevent incidents like this from happening again, she said.

“We are below ground and we have had a series of problems trying to keep this building intact and leaks at a minimum,” she said. “The University has spent a lot of money trying to maintain that and is not always successful. It’s reduced quite a bit, but we still have problems.”

Layla Archuletta, assistant administrator at UNM’s Honors College, said she was the first one in the office after the damage was done to the facility.

“It looked normal, and then I noticed that some of the carpeting was a little bit messed up,” Archuletta said. “When the students started coming in they were asking me if it had flooded because the carpet was wet, and then we all realized this was bigger than I first thought.”

Having been aware of the flooding downtown, Archuletta said she had a feeling the Honors College might be at risk because of its location.

The following day, maintenance came in and began renovating the ruined carpet and materials, she said.

“This has been disruptive to say the least,” Archuletta said. “This morning we showed up and something had gone wrong with one of the fans, so there was just a huge puddle of water right there so we really couldn’t get into our office.”

Not knowing what the future holds or how long it will take to repair their damaged facility is frustrating, she said.

“We’ve been kind of scrambling to figure out what we are going to do if things aren’t fixed by orientation,” she said. “I had to take everything and push it over to the Student Union Building for now.”

Gianna May, a graduate assistant for the Honors College History Department, said that when the department started making phone calls they found out it was a University-wide problem.

“It’s hard to walk because I know the shoes that I’m wearing are going to be ruined because you can’t walk in the places that the carpet has come up without it sticking to the glue,” May said.

Having the Honors College in this state deters any visitors to the department because of the renovation, she said.

“This is probably one of the times when we get the most students coming in after a pretty dead summer, so this does not help,” May said.

Student operations for the Honors College are in a state of limbo and access to some of the classrooms has become impossible, she said.

“We can’t even get into the computer pod at the moment because the floor is so sticky, and that’s pretty annoying,” May said.

The general worry about clean-up and restructuring has a lot of faculty members nervous because of the Fall semester beginning in one week, she said.

Stephen Montoya is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. Contact him at culture@dailylobo.com on Twitter @StephenMontoya9.