Campus nears recoveryWhen Chancellor Renee Wachter received a phone call around 10:30 p.m. June 19, she already knew the campus was in trouble. Water was already entering campus buildings. Wachter called the university’s chief business officer, Jan Hansen, and the two headed to campus.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
When Chancellor Renee Wachter received a phone call around 10:30 p.m. June 19, she already knew the campus was in trouble. Water was already entering campus buildings. Wachter called the university’s chief business officer, Jan Hansen, and the two headed to campus.
They walked from building to building with flashlights to see where the water was coming in and knew the rainfall would be “catastrophic” for the university, Wachter said.
“It was probably more excitement than we were looking for that evening,” Chancellor Renee Wachter said. “… What we found that evening was truly beyond our expectations.”
With several inches of sewage backup in Old Main, she said their worst fear was confirmed when they headed to the Jim Dan Hill Library.
“We were watching a river coming through the utility door where we knew we had generator equipment,” Wachter said. “We could see that evening that water was coming in much faster than any system could handle.”
By 5:30 a.m. June 20, she said there was about eight or nine feet of water in the library.
“The books were floating,” Wachter said. “Flooding levels had increased in the buildings ... because power was out on campus.”
The good news for students, however, is despite the catastrophic flooding that damaged every building on campus except the Service Center on the south side of campus, repairs following the June 19-20 storm are about 95 percent complete, said Facilities Management Director Tom Fennessey. He’s optimistic repairs will be finished when students return to campus in a couple weeks.
Between the library and the heating plant, Wachter said estimates placed about 1.8 million gallons of water in the two buildings.
The Jim Dan Hill Library reopened this week and plans are in the works to test-fire the power plant early next week.
Wachter credits BMS Cat, the catastrophic recovery team that arrived on campus at 9 a.m. June 20, for marshaling the resources and local contractors for their responsiveness to the campus’ needs for making the needed repairs in time for students return to campus this fall.
“We needed the help and everybody came to our rescue,” Fennessey said.
The storm caused more than $23 million in damage campus wide.
That’s still a moving number, Fennessey said.
“The insurance covers quite a bit,” Wachter said. “What we’re finding it didn’t cover is what isn’t visible, quite a bit of infrastructure — the steam pipes, the insulation around the steam pipes and the steam plant.”
Insurance companies have been fronting some of the costs for repairs, Wachter said.
“As they’re going through, they’re finding more and more stuff to replace in the buildings,” Fennessey said. “Between the insurance companies and the adjusters, they are continually putting these figures together. That’s one of the things that are outstanding ... Those costs are being compiled on a time and materials basis.”
Estimates place insured damages at about $17 million so far and another $6.5 million in uninsured damages, Wachter said.
Uninsured damage at the university contributed to northern Wisconsin meeting the eligibility requirement for federal disaster relief.
One thing that remains up in the air as students prepare to head back to campus is the state of the library collection.
While university officials immediately contacted a company with the ability to freeze dry the books, Wachter said the results have been mixed. While books that were on high shelves — about 22,000 of the library’s collection of 150,000 — seemed to fair better through the freeze-dry process the submerged books did not fair well, she said.
Determining how to recover the collection — and store it in the future — remains an issue that will be addressed when university officials have a better handle on what can and can’t be saved, Wachter said.
“We will be working to make sure they have the appropriate collections needed for the fall,” Wachter said. “Short of having replacement books in the library, we will be ready to go.”
While work is ongoing in the steam plant, Fennessey said when students arrive on campus, he expects campus life to be business as usual.
“It’s been business as usual for some time; it’s just we haven’t had the physical library collection,” Wachter said.
“All of the buildings are at least 95 percent restored,” Fennessey said. “A little bit of painting, a little bit of touch-up stuff, the heating plant … next week, they actually go live with steam … so we’re looking really good on everything. I would say when students come back they probably won’t see anything. It will be business as usual for them and there will be nothing hindering their ability to get to classes and learn.”