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'Millions of dollars of damage'

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | January 19, 2024 1:08 AM

Locations across Kootenai County and many in Post Falls experienced burst pipes and ruptured fire sprinkler systems brought on by extreme cold.

Kootenai County Fire and Rescue teams were busy responding to 110 weather-related water calls from last Friday until Thursday afternoon, specifically bursting water pipes and fire alarms triggered by the cold, Deputy Chief Pete Holley said Thursday.

He said while some attributed the numerous incidents to new construction and buildings that have not yet experienced this type of cold weather, older buildings are also not impervious to bursting water pipes. This type of damage usually happens during a freeze and thaw period as well, he said, but incidents have kept occurring as temperatures continued to dip.

"There's no rhyme or real reason to why these things are happening," he said. "There's literally millions of dollars of damage that has happened this past week because of this cold snap."

The Community Library Network’s Post Falls Library is closed after suffering damage Sunday. The Athol library is also closed due to damage sustained Tuesday.

Library network officials reported in a Thursday news release both sites are closed for water mitigation. The Athol Library experienced a broken water pipe in an exterior wall. The Post Falls Library experienced catastrophic failure of the fire suppression system.

“The full extent and inventory of damage for both libraries is unknown currently, but it is significant and a closure spanning multiple months is anticipated," Community Library Network Library Director Alexa Eccles said in the release.

Damage to the Athol Library’s book collection appears minimal with water mostly impacting the carpet, drywall and furnishings, Eccles said. The Post Falls Library damage is widespread and includes computers, equipment, tables, furnishings and books as well as building items like drywall, ceilings, lighting, electrical and flooring.

"Post Falls Library flooring is being dried and attempts to clean the dirt and soil will be tried, but I think it is likely the 20-year-old carpet will need to be completely replaced," Eccles said.

Library staff have filed a claim with the library’s insurance provider, the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, for both incidents. Next steps will be to begin the work of documenting the extent of the damage, estimates and then repairs. 

Staff from Post Falls and Athol were temporarily reassigned to other library locations this week.

“We do not have enough information right now to make an informed decision on what next steps will be for staff," Eccles said. "I do not want to speculate and unnecessarily concern staff who work at these locations. If at all possible, we will try to keep and pay our staff. Library administration is researching all available options."

Patrons who use the Post Falls Library may have holds transferred to another nearby library, such as the Hayden Library. Athol Library users may also be interested in services offered at the Rathdrum, Spirit Lake and Hayden libraries.

Contact the Hayden Library at 208-772-5612 for details. Visit communitylibrary.net for the most up-to-date information about library closures and service locations.

Pipes at two elementary schools in the Post Falls School District were also impacted by the freezing temperatures.

A 3-inch mainline fire suppression line burst Sunday at Greensferry Elementary, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Anna Wilson reported. But thanks to the work of custodians and Burke's Restoration, the school opened as normal Tuesday.

"All but five classrooms were impacted, some with 2 inches of water, some with just wet carpet," Wilson said. "It was a mess. Our maintenance department needs high kudos for all the work they did."

Treaty Rock Elementary had two lines and an exterior hose rupture over two days as another fire suppression system gave way.

"The worst at Treaty Rock was in the office,” Superintendent Dena Naccarato said.

Water poured out of the office ceiling, she said.

Staff lounges at both schools sustained a good amount of damage.

Naccarato said she wants families to know student safety is always No. 1, especially in times like these.

"Our maintenance staff was monitoring the heat in all of our buildings to try to prevent anything like this from happening," she said. "With the suppression systems being in an exterior walls, there's no insulation around them, even despite their efforts. It's out of anyone’s control when this happens."

The cost of the school damages was not yet known early in the day Thursday as district officials expected estimates from insurance adjusters in the afternoon.

Another location that suffered water damage from burst pipes was the Post Falls Goodwill.

Heather Alexander, vice president of marketing and communications for Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest, told The Press the store suffered an estimated $15,000 in damage plus the cost of restoration efforts after the back end of an elbow in fire suppression piping burst in the ceiling of the entryway Saturday morning. The rupture sent forth 250 gallons a minute.

"Water made it all the way to the back side of the store," Alexander said.

The doors froze shut because of the water in the entryway and the freezing temperatures, she said.

The store was closed for a couple days but re-opened Wednesday. No donations were damaged and no one was injured, but drywall on the north and south sides of the store soaked up water and the flooring in the entryway will need to be repaired. 

"The repair work has started," Alexander said. They’ll be done next week."

She expressed gratitude to Goodwill team members and community members for their patience during the incident and repair time.

"We had some associates who were working, but those who weren't able to work were paid for their time. They didn’t have to be without pay," she said. "We're just making sure our team members are taken care of as well."

Alexander said neighbors stopped by with business cards and asked if they could help.

"It was really nice to see the community be so supportive of businesses and individuals in need," she said. "It's hard when our stores have to be closed for any reason. We're always glad when we can get back open."

Holley said insulation is key for businesses to protect their pipes from the elements. Businesses and homeowners alike should know where their water shut-off valves are to minimize damage if their pipes burst.

This winter can be viewed as a learning experience for how to keep cold weather damage at bay down the road.

"This hopefully will help us be prepared for the future, as far as a community," Holley said.

    Ceiling tiles are scattered on the floor of the staff room at Treaty Rock Elementary School in Post Falls after the fire suppression system broke and caused water damage earlier this week due to severe winter weather.
 
    Water is all over the floor Sunday after the Post Falls Library experienced a catastrophic failure of its fire suppression system due to the winter weather. The damage is widespread and includes computers, equipment, tables, furnishings and books as well as drywall, ceilings, lighting, electrical and flooring. The Post Falls and Athol libraries are closed due to weather damage.
 
 
    Kootenai County Fire and Rescue crew members work in the entryway of the Post Falls Goodwill as water seeps into the store Saturday, Jan. 13. The store was closed until Wednesday as crews worked to mitigate water damage caused by burst pipes. Repairs will continue into next week.