Broken water main hits Archives

Posted: Friday, December 10, 2010

A broken water main at the State Archives Building doused several boxes of records Thursday morning, but Archivist Dean Dawson said the items were able to be dried without suffering permanent damage.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"It just does really ram home the need for a new building," Dawson said.

Plans are in the works for a new home for the Archives, in a building that would also include a museum and state library. Voters last month approved a bond measure which contained initial funding for the project.

Dawson said the problem was found early Thursday morning, and stemmed from a crack in a four-inch fire main, likely due to building settling. A fine spray of water came from the crack, hit a wall and ran onto the floor, where it came into contact with boxes of records sitting on a loading dock.

Dawson said the problem could have been much worse.

"Had the pipe completely blown out we would have had a major problem," he said.

Part of the building is sitting on pilings, which began to fail more than 30 years ago, and the building's office and stacks areas are settling at different rates, he said. That led to stress on the pipe, which caused the crack.

The pipe that failed showed no signs of rust and did not appear to have a long-standing leak, Dawson said. Division of General Services staff is inspecting remaining pipes, he said.

There was a wide variation in the wet records, ranging from 1920s general correspondence records of the territorial governor to 1990s legislative committee audio tapes to 1950s probate case files to 1980s Department of Law regulation files.

All were fully recovered by air drying them with industrial fans in second floor processing and conference spaces, he said.

The Archives last year suffered more extensive water damage when a temporary roof covering failed during repairs. Those records were recovered and remain usable, he said.

Dawson said he didn't have a cost estimate on the damage, but there were a dozen people, including outside plumbers and other contractors working to deal with it.

"That'll be expensive," he said.

After the leak was discovered, the water fire-fighting system was shut off for the day, leaving only the halon system. Plumbers were expected to be able to restore the water system late in the day, he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or

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