Blaze shuts down Architecture Annex
By Jill Elswick
Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 16 - January 15, 1998
A large fire broke out on the first floor of the three-story Architecture Annex building in the early morning hours of December 16. The fire destroyed the first floor, including a room where award-winning student designs were kept, and parts of the second and third floors.
It was finals week. Students were in the building studying when the fire occurred. They attempted to call the fire department, but the blaze had already destroyed the phone lines. The students evacuated the building and called the fire department from the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center (DBHCC).
A few hours later, around 5 o'clock in the morning, Fred Weaver, director of risk management, and his crew surveyed the scene. "We walked in the basement and everything was burnt to charcoal. There was significant smoke and soot. After any fire, when you walk in you get a really heavy feeling from the smoke and congestion," he said.
Weaver determined that a restoration company was needed to clean and de-smoke the contents of the building, including electrical equipment. He began working on a purchase order to arrange a contract with Environmental Disaster Services (EDS).
Bill Elvey, director of Physical Plant, recalled the need to clear the building as quickly as possible. "There was a major effort to get all of the things out," he said. Elvey estimated, in amazement, that a total of "13,000 boxes of stuff" was moved.
In the meantime, plans were made to relocate faculty offices, classrooms, and computer labs from the Architecture Annex, which housed the departments of Urban Affairs and Planning (UAP) and Landscape Architecture.
After all the boxes were moved, one of the first tasks was to de-smoke the building, using ozone to take away the lingering smell of smoke. Electrical and computer equipment that had been removed from the building was disassembled, de-smoked, tested, and repaired.
By January 5, 444 pieces of electrical equipment, mostly computers and computer systems hardware from the building's two computer labs, had been restored with a 96- to 97-percent success rate.
Elvey is overseeing the reconstruction of the Architecture Annex. The first floor walls, he said, are in the process of being replaced. At the same time, asbestos is being removed by Hico Inc. "It's not a hazard," said Elvey, "but we might as well remove it." The first floor will also receive a new floor and ceiling.
The second floor suffered less damage. The foyer floor covering will be replaced, along with the walls on the side of the building where the fire started. The third floor will also receive a new floor covering, as the carpet was ruined by water from extinguishing the fire.
The entire building will receive new ceiling and light fixtures. Mechanical wiring will also be replaced. The interior will be freshly painted. No upgrades to the structure are planned; insurance coverage pays only for replacement costs.
Elvey expects the job to be finished by the end of April. "We're working our best to get it done as fast as we can," he said.
The cause of the fire was determined to be a faulty electrical phone switch. Building repair costs have been estimated at approximately $250,000.
Both departments have arranged for spring classes to be held in other buildings on campus.
Faculty offices have been moved temporarily to the fourth floor of the DBHCC, with three or four faculty members to an office. "It's cramped but workable," said Ben Johnson, professor of landscape architecture. Johnson praised Communications Network Services (CNS) for a swift response: "The folks at CNS have been marvelous. They have literally rewired the fourth floor of the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center in three or four days."
Telephone numbers for faculty members will remain the same.
The UAP computer lab has also been moved to the DBHCC. The landscape architecture computer lab has been relocated to Saunders Hall.