Flood at State Archives caught "in the nick of time"

Staff writerApril 25, 2014 

An employee discovered a flood that started in a break room at the Washington State Archives about 7 a.m. Friday, and state officials scrambled to save priceless historical documents.

Archivist Steve Excell said the state is lucky that a pipe burst on a Friday as opposed to a Saturday — otherwise the water would have been running like a garden hose all weekend.

“We happened to catch it in the nick of time,” Excell said.

Water had leaked into the basement of the archives building on Washington Street by the time imaging specialist Karen Ferguson discovered it.

“I was the first one here,” she said. “I came in like I usually do, and I noticed there was water in the foyer.”

Ferguson said she got sopping wet when she discovered the burst pipe in the break room and tried unsuccessfully to turn it off. She said that after she called the Department of Enterprise Services, workers came and shut the water off. She and other employees immediately began checking records for water damage, she said.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I didn’t know how to turn off the water.”

Ferguson said she arrived at work early, as is her custom.

“I’m supposed to start at 7:30, but I’m always here at 7.”

Excell said archivists had saved numerous records that were touched by water, including birth, marriage and real estate records. Those records could simply be saved by air drying them, he said.

Other documents that are wet might have to be freeze-dried to prevent mold damage, Excell said. He added that he believed no documents were damaged beyond repair.

Deputy archivist Terry Badger confirmed that “most of the damage is really to nonrecords areas.”

Excell said a reading area near the break room had more than an inch of water. Standing water in the reading room was vacuumed.

The Department of Enterprise Services will have to put a dollar value on the extent of damages, Excell said. He said he believes the most expensive damages will be to replace wet carpeting and the burst pipe.

Excell said he was extremely relieved “when we saw that we could save everything and it hadn’t gone too far.”

DES officials could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

The Washington Street building where the archives are located was built in 1962, Excell said.

Brian Zylstra, a spokesman with the Secretary of State’s Office, said officials hope that the State Archives will reopen to the public Tuesday. In the meantime, the public can email research requests at the Secretary of State’s website, sos.wa.gov.


Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445; jpawloski@theolympian.com

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