UPDATED: Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries faces substantial flooding of operations center

Cast iron water main break causes 1.4 million gallons to flood building

VANCOUVER — On Saturday evening (Oct. 3) contractors working on the new Vancouver Innovation, Technology and Arts (VITA) Elementary School to the south of Fort Vancouver Regional Library’s (FVRL) Operations Center on Mill Plain Boulevard, inadvertently broke an 18-inch water main.

Total water loss from the break is estimated at 1.4 million gallons.

The massive influx of water over the weekend quickly flooded the lower floors and basement of the FVRL center. Until Monday, response teams and staff had to wear waders to access the flooded areas.

A photo taken over the weekend shows the extensive flooding in the FVRL Operations Center vehicle bay. Photo courtesy of FVRL

Water levels reached two-and-a-half feet, and also flooded the center’s vehicle bays even higher with newer vans becoming partly submerged.     

The areas affected housed the fleet and facilities, IT, collection development operations, storage, and mailroom functions as well as several library vehicles. Though the top floor of the building was not damaged, the building’s power and HVAC systems were affected.

“The section that was impacted the most is sort of the lifecycle of the book,” said Tak Kendrick, the communications and marketing director for FVRL. “New books coming in, old books leaving, our mailroom facilities, our facilities facilities, our way in which we get connected books to different branches, etc.”

The damage is still being assessed by officials at this time, but is extensive, Kendrick said. 

Today, and into this week, the main focus of crews and staff will be to drain and dry out the building as well as salvage important materials and move services to other locations.

“Because the Operations Center is the hub for the district’s 15 locations, this will likely cause some lag in library services such as processing of holds for curbside pickup at library branches as well as sending of books by mail,” Kendrick said in an email Sunday. “The district is prioritizing patron-facing services as part of the recovery process.”

The city of Vancouver Public Works Water Operations crews and private contractors repaired a break in the older cast iron water main that broke near 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd, near Fort Vancouver Way, by midnight on Saturday. 

Water is seen rocketing from the broken pipe near FVRL’s operations center over the weekend. Photo courtesy of the city of Vancouver

The major water line break occurred just after 6 p.m. Saturday, in an area just east of the center. More widespread impacts from the flooding are still being looked at by city officials, and should be updated later this week.

“The break appears to have been related to construction activity at a nearby development project,” read a city statement Monday morning. “Private contractor crews for that project quickly responded to try to stop the flow, but were unable to do so as a result of the size of the pipe and severity of the break.” 

Nutter Corp. was the contractor on for the site, and accidentally caused a small crack in the water main when backfilling a trench. The brittle metal allowed the crack to grow to around two feet very quickly.

Vancouver Water Operations crews were called to the scene at about 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3. With the private contractor, they started planning and gathering materials to temporarily repair the pipe, but were unable to do so as the break suddenly grew to roughly 10 feet in length, causing water to flood the area.

City crews were able to isolate the area where the break occurred and shut off water. Only Hudson Bay High School and the Library’s Operation Center were affected by the shutdown; all other water customers supplied by this main line remained in service.

“At this point, our timelines are really to try to figure out what services have been impacted and get those back up in the next few days to a week for patrons,” Kendrick said. “The assumption, at this point, is almost any book that was downstairs is destroyed, between the water or humidity reaching it and then turning moldy.”

According to the city, the water main was slated for replacement in the next 10 days as part of the construction. 

Water to the 18-inch main is supplied by Vancouver’s Water Station 1, located near Fort Vancouver Way and Fourth Plain Boulevard, which provides about one-fourth of the community’s drinking water, as much as 2 billion gallons per year.

Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries and the city of Vancouver contributed to this report.