Steam from a leaking pipe filled the lower level of Sterling Memorial Library on Saturday evening, damaging books and forcing Machine City to close for repairs.

A library preservation team rushed to remove a cluster of books that suffered water damage, said Matt Glickman, the evening supervisor at Cross Campus Library. Maintenance personnel also removed thousands of square feet of ceiling tile to prevent it from deteriorating, facilities managers said. A staff area on the lower level was also closed, disrupting library operations as students returned to campus, but facilities officials said they expect Machine City to reopen by the end of the week.

Glickman said the steam dampened a relatively low-value collection of new books that had not yet entered circulation. He said he does not know precisely how many volumes were affected, but said a truckload were shipped to Chicago for treatment.

“Any type of water damage is bad,” he said. “If it had been an area where there were books of high value, it would have been a huge concern.”

The leak occurred when a valve in the basement of Trumbull College failed for reasons still being investigated, said John Bollier, associate vice president for facilities operations. Authorities were not aware of the situation until heat from the steam set off a fire sprinkler in Sterling.

“By the time we got there, there was significant amount of steam buildup,” Bollier said.

Maintenance personnel responded by airing out the area and setting up dehumidifiers. Machine City will remain cordoned off while workers replace the ceiling tiles, which would have developed mildew after being saturated with water.

Even a small amount of moisture can decrease a book’s life span or even destroy it, Glickman said. The number of volumes damaged exceeded the library’s capacity to perform in-house repairs, so most were shipped to facilities that will preserve them through a freezing process.

The library staff’s main challenge now is processing a heavy back-to-school workload without the use of its staff area, which housed a number of employee offices, Glickman said.

“When 10 people get displaced without warning, it causes a little havoc,” he said.

Glickman said the Machine City and other affected areas will probably reopen by the beginning of next week, but the computers inside are still being checked for damage.

Facilities officials said the faulty valve may have been damaged by ongoing renovations to Trumbull or simply by old age. Director of Facilities Operations Eric Uscinski said such valve failures are unusual, but not unexpected.

“The places are inspected, but you’ve got miles of pipe, and these things happen,” he said.

Nobody was injured because of the leak, Uscinski said. Damage to the building was minimal.

Library personnel said they were relieved that staff were not in the building when the leak occurred.

“From what people have said to me, it could have been a lot worse,” said Mary Ellen Sellitto, a coordinator at SML. “It was lucky that it happened when no one was here, so no one was hurt.”

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