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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Post Falls and Athol libraries lose thousands of books in flood, prepare for multi-million dollar repair

Community Library Network Director Alexa Eccles talks about the flooding damage in the children’s section of Post Falls Library on Thursday. The damage happened when pipes burst from freezing temperatures in January.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Cold, foul-smelling water poured out of the ceiling of the Post Falls Public Library on Jan. 14 when a pipe froze and then burst. It rained on DVD collections, artwork and toys – while completely destroying row after row of books.

Less than a month later, the inside of the library has a fan placed on every corner. Water stains appear with every step, a collection of newspapers in their plastic boxes is gone, electrical wiring has been ripped from the floor, ladders are propped up into the ceiling and discarded children’s toys sit in a mound beside the large windows.

It’s devastating, says the director of the Community Library Network, Alexa Eccles. But what’s worse is the thousands of books that are gone, and how the public can no longer come inside for a safe haven.

That day, librarians came in early to prepare to open. Shortly after they arrived, they were walking around in 2 inches of water that posed a significant danger to everyone inside. Electrical outlets line the floor, and computer cords were hanging down. Eccles said she feels lucky no one was injured.

About 10,000 books were lost, Eccles said, some costing around $75 to replace. DVDs that were destroyed average around $20. If the Community Library Network wants to replace every item, it would be about $400,000 – and that isn’t including repair costs.

The Athol library, which also had a pipe burst, has more furniture damage, Eccles said. The pipe that burst there was in a wall, causing water to flow from the ground up. Post Falls had more selection damage from the water flowing from the ceiling.

As Eccles surveyed the destruction, she moved her hand up and down.

“We all are kind of on this emotional roller coaster,” she said. “It’s very difficult… It’s very emotional and it’s extremely hard.”

Librarians are working to prioritize what books need to be assessed for damages as soon as possible and which ones are able to wait. Sometimes a book might look OK on the outside, Eccles said, but when you open it, it’s covered in mold. More and more books are getting tossed. Some rows of books have been completely cleared out.

The libraries have facility insurance through the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, but Eccles said she hasn’t gotten a quote estimate on the damages yet. At the Post Falls Public library alone, it will be “multiple millions of dollars,” she said.

The library in Post Falls has about $5.6 million worth of coverage on the building, with nearly $1.1 million worth of coverage on contents. The Athol library has more than $800,000 worth of coverage on the building and about $350,000 on contents, according to a news release. In the 40 years since the Community Library Network’s founding, it’s never experienced “such a great loss,” it said.

It could be four to six months before the libraries open again. Contractors are busy, Eccles said, and it’s a lot of work.

Residents still keep trying to come in to the library and return books, only to leave disappointed when they realize it’s closed. So many Post Falls citizens come to the library for miscellaneous reasons, including researching things on the computers, reading, studying or having a large-scale meeting. During the library’s story time hour, Eccles has seen up to 80 people attend – all of them who won’t be able to come back for months.

“It’s a lot of stress. It’s a lot of anxiety,” Eccles said. “But I keep remembering it was a beautiful library and it will be again.”