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Water from broken valve damages books at North Dakota law library

Workers continue the fan coil replacement project in the ceiling of the North Dakota Supreme Court Law Library on Thursday. The shelves on the left are empty after a water valve broke on Wednesday, causing water damage to numerous law books. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK—A broken valve led to water damaging books Wednesday afternoon, July 18, in the North Dakota Supreme Court Law Library.

John Boyle, director of state Facilities Management, said contractors were working on a fan coil replacement project in the state Capitol's judicial wing, when around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, a contractor was shutting off an old valve when it broke and began spraying water on a couple shelves of books, with some volumes from the 1850s and 1880s.

Law Library assistant Paula Amelsberg said Arrow Cleaning Services took some of the damaged books to be salvaged with a freeze-drying process.

"I'm hoping they'll come out OK," she said.

The North Dakota State Library also lent a hand. State librarian Mary Soucie said her staff trundled eight carts of books from the law library to be salvaged with commercial-grade dehumidifiers and fans. Once shelving has dried and Amelsberg gives the OK, Soucie said her staff will return the materials.

"We're just helping some colleagues out. That's what libraries do," Soucie said.

State Supreme Court Clerk Penny Miller said the water also leaked through the ceiling of the court's chambers and down to a small carpeted area of the hallway outside Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle's office. Some ceiling repairs will follow, and people were not displaced from their offices.

"It's already dry," Miller said early Thursday afternoon.

The fan coil work in the law library area should be completed in the next week, while the larger project is nearing completion in the judicial wing, according to Boyle, adding that water damages were "very limited," with most cleanup done in mere hours after the water break. Some ceiling tiles will have to be replaced.

"It was mainly just clean water that we had to get sucked up," he said.

The library remains open to the public, with some areas off limits due to the repairs.