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St. Helens library closes for days after water leak

No library materials, electronics damaged


by: MARK MILLER - Service fitter Todd Harrell of SimplexGrinnell, a contractor brought in to repair the leak, works on the fire sprinkler system in the Columbia Centers lobby on Monday, July 29.A broken pipe in the fire sprinkler system forced the closure of the St. Helens Public Library Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, but the library’s books, computers, magazines and videos were spared from water damage.

Columbia River Fire and Rescue Chief Jay Tappan said his agency was alerted to the situation at 8:42 p.m., hours after the library had closed to the public.

“When you get a water flow through the sprinkler system, it automatically sets off the alarm,” Tappan said.

Library Director Margaret Jeffries said she arrived at the library at about the same time as firefighters did. They found that a rusted joint in the sprinkler’s main line through the lobby had sprung what Tappan described as “a pretty good-sized leak.”

Jeffries praised the emergency response as “wonderful.” She said responders laid down tarpaulins in the lobby to avoid further damage before removing pieces of the ceiling to get at the leak.

“We were fortunate in that the pipe was in the lobby and it was over an area in which there were no library materials,” said Jeffries. She compared the library’s mishap favorably to another incident in St. Helens Friday, in which a firefighter inadvertently released fire retardant powder into a computer room while responding to a foul smell at the Columbia County Courthouse.

The library’s fire sprinkler system had to be shut down to handle the leak, keeping the library closed to the public during its normal business hours on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, although library employees continued to work.

The library reopened to the public Wednesday, although drywall work is continuing in the lobby of the building, which it shares with the Columbia Learning Center.

Neal Sheppeard, St. Helens Public Works Department supervisor, estimated damage to the building at about $5,000.