Flood leaves UWS better preparedThe University of Wisconsin-Superior was awash with floodwaters one year ago Thursday.
The University of Wisconsin-Superior was awash with floodwaters one year ago Thursday.
The majority of buildings sustained damage, especially the heating plant, the steam pipe system and the Jim Dan Hill Library.
“It was pretty devastating for the library staff to continue to see the water rise in the lower level of the library on June 19-20 last year,” said Deb Nordgren, library director. All of the materials on that level — the general book collection, periodicals, legal materials and government documents — were lost.
At the steam plant, the basement was awash in 30 feet of water.
“It was overwhelming and so surreal,” said Tom Fennessey, director of facilities management.
Damage estimates put the cost of the flood at $25 million.
“I have to say it was heartbreaking for me to see all the initial damage,” said Jan Hanson, vice chancellor of administration and finance. But, she said, the way the campus responded and kept things going was “phenomenal.” Staff members showed up the day after the flood to pitch in, even though the campus was closed down. They relocated offices, got phones and voicemail up and running, and continued summer clinics and camps.
“To the greater campus community, we are back to 100 percent function and have been since fall semester,” said Lynne Williams, UWS spokeswoman.
Although there is a lack of a physical book collection at the library, technology and online subscriptions have provided students and staff with 209,000 academic ebooks and journals. Over the past year, the library has added 9,724 print books, 1,197 government documents and periodicals since January 2012. But, Nordgren said, “the re-building of the collection will continue for some time.”
The heating plant was back up and running in three months.
“It was phenomenal to see everybody come together to make it happen,” Fennessey said, from contractors, businesses and community members to administrators and staff “everybody just pitched in.”
It was a learning experience, Fennessey said, as they worked together to find what each department needed to continue day-to-day business in the midst of flood recovery.
“The campus couldn’t have come back as quickly as we did without the cooperation of the broader community,” Hanson said. “I’m not a native Superiorite but this event and the community’s response makes me proud to be a part of this community.”
FEMA will cover 75 percent of uninsured losses to the college, Hanson said. To date, the campus has submitted slightly more than $7.6 million in uninsured losses, which include deductibles. And work on steam lines will continue through the summer of 2014. This summer, the work will require three separate closures along Catlin Avenue, each staged at a different time.
“We are stressing for people to watch for detours,” Fennessey said. When the project is finished, all the steam lines will be replaced or repaired. One of the silver linings of the flood damage is that all of the equipment in the steam plant is now new or upgraded. They are working with FEMA to focus on improvements to the campus to minimize flood damage should a similar disaster occur. What they learn at UWS, Fennessey said, could lead to improvements at other campuses and state properties because “it could happen to anybody.”
For the facilities manager, the incident has made him into a weather watcher.
“Does it put you more on alert status? Absolutely,” Fennessey said. He checks the weather more often and checks in with staff more often when it rains.
The tragedy brought the campus together and helped them prepare for potential crises situations in the future, Williams said.
“As an education institution, that was one of the best hand-on learning experiences we could have asked for,” she said. “We succeeded and are better because of it.”