Small electrical fire this summer causes library to close over weekend

Due to construction that likely was to fix electrical systems caused by a fire, Mabee Library was closed Sept. 8.

Earlier this year, a small electrical fire occurred in the basement of the library.

“We had a relatively significant fire in the mechanical room this summer,” said Alan Bearman, dean of libraries and the center for student success. “That’s led to some workarounds with electricity in the building and that’s going to require some pretty significant work here soon to fix everything.”

Students could be affected again as this closing may not be the last. Bearman noted in an interview that the extent of the damage could cause the library to be closed a total of three days this semester.

Washburn University Police responded to a fire alarm around 6:30 p.m. July 13 in the building, according to the WUPD crime and fire log for that month. Additionally, the fire department was called to the scene.

“Officers are at Mabee Library with @Topekafire after an electrical issue created light smoke in the building,” said WUPD in a tweet from that day.

The fire caused the library to close for the weekend. Bearman relayed the information in an email he sent to library staff about the fire, including that they were not able to come to work while initial repairs were being made and the building was without power.

“Until the alarms are reset no one can occupy the building,” the email said.

In an email that updated the library staff the next day, Bearman began by thanking WUPD. He also thanked Facility Services for being able to restore power to the building.

Both their immediate and ongoing response to our electrical fire was/is absolutely outstanding,” Bearman said. “A quick response prevented things from getting getting worse, and colleagues from Facilities have worked almost non-stop to restore our power. I simply do not have sufficient words of praise for Mark Noble, Matt Harden, Ed Wiss and Rich Connell for their work and leadership to bring the Mabee back to life.”

After Facilities was able to work through the weekend, the library reopened July 16. The elevator was not operational and the water was not working in the building until the following afternoon. The official Mabee Twitter account kept students and staff informed of the progress including a tweet about the alarms.

“FYI, there will be a fire alarm test in Mabee at approximately 2 p.m. this afternoon,” a tweet from July 17 read.

The fix was only a temporary one, which is what led to the most recent closing. A more permanent solution was needed which is what caused this latest close and could lead to more later this semester.

Noting how the fire at the National Museum in Brazil last week reminded him of this incident, Bearman said that it is always nerve racking when he encounters something like this.

“When you hear ‘fire in the library,’ your heart stops,” Bearman said. “You understand what’s at risk.”

He said that this is especially true given the proximity of the fire to a particular area of Mabee Library.

“You understand that just meters away from the mechanical room is the archive room and special collections,” Bearman said. “You think about those materials that we use to understand Washburn’s history, its memory, student records [and] student achievements.”

Bearman went on to say that it is the job of many university libraries to maintain the institutional memory of their school.

“Without those materials, it’s lost and it’s never recaptured,” Bearman said.