UNK’s bad storm damage brings out good in people

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The April storm with its 78-mph winds blew much of the roof off of UNK’s Calvin T. Ryan Library.

The phone call came at 3:30 a.m. with the shocking news:

The storm blew the roof off the library.

My library?

That was Janet Stoeger Wilke’s first thought. She is the dean of the library at UNK. She phoned Dee Urwiller, who coordinates the emergency plans for the library, and both rushed there to help save its books.

Water damages books.

And books are the lifeblood of the library.

The April storm with its 78-mph winds blew much of the roof off of UNK’s Calvin T. Ryan Library.

Rain flowed into the library along the seam that joins the 1963 half of the building with the 1983 addition. The seam is above the center of the main book collection on the second floor.

The water damaged at least 6,259 books.

It damaged some metal shelving.

It damaged a large wooden library table that had come from the original library in the first administration building on campus.

It damaged some books that had been borrowed on loan from other universities.

It damaged some wireless technology.

It left carpet, walls and ceiling tiles wet and the library in need of significant repairs.

The storm also damaged the roof of the fine arts building nearby. Rain and hail fell onto the stage while students were rehearsing for Urinetown: The Musical – a story of a post-apocalyptic world where there’s not enough water.


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Darin Himmerich, director of theatre at UNK, said water from the storm caused maybe five years of wear-and-tear to the theater’s fly system – all in just a few days. The fly system is the metal grid system above the stage that rigs the curtains and lights.

The water puddled on the stage, warping some wood. Luckily, he says, the water didn’t damage the scenery for Urinetown.

“You know the old adage: ‘The show must go on.’ And it did,” he said. “It actually was a wonderful show. We didn’t have as much damage as the library. Ours was more localized, just the stage.”

But the stage is the heart of the fine arts building.

“Without it, we can’t do anything.”

Wilke was glad she wore boots as she walked through a couple of inches water on the library’s second floor.

They’d been told not to turn on the lights for safety reasons, so they worked by flashlight. The darkness was eerie. So was a sound that seemed so out of place:

Water pouring down on the books.

She and Urwiller began phoning the other library workers. They pulled plastic sheeting out of the library’s emergency kit to cover the stacks most heavily hit. After other members of her staff arrived, Wilke headed to Wal-Mart, the only place open at 4:30 a.m., to buy more plastic drop cloths. Before the day was done, almost 350 cloths had been used.

The standard practice when books get wet is to freeze them. That prevents mold from growing. So she called Cash-Wa Distributing and told Chad Henning about the situation. (The Hennings, who own Cash-Wa, are great supporters of UNK.) Chad and other Cash-Wa staff came to the library bringing boxes and pallets and a semitruck and hauled the books, boxed by library staff, back to Cash-Wa’s refrigerators – all free of charge, for as long as needed.

The library opened two days later.

The show must go on.

“I could not see sky or feel the wind,” Wilke recalled. “I knew the damage would be bad, it would be a mess and it would be months before we would be back to the pre-storm condition.

“But it could have been so much worse.”

Luckily, she says, the archives and special collection area did not get damaged.

But the storm was a reminder that the archives and special collection environment is extremely vulnerable. It doesn’t have the proper HVAC conditions (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) that are standard to such collections. It doesn’t have protection against a storm or other such catastrophe.

“It is by sheer luck that water did not pour in on these valuable – and in some cases, irreplaceable – collections.”

And there were other silver linings.

She saw the outpouring from people in the community and the country offering to help in any way. She saw her own library staff rise to the occasion.

“Their coordination and willingness to take on anything needed at that time was the finest example of teamwork that I have seen in 34 years in the academic library world.”

It blew her away.

If you can help, please give online to the UNK Library Fund or the Friends of Theatre Fund or call the foundation’s Anne McConkey at 800-432-3216.

And please share this story with others you think might be willing to help.

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