MU's Ellis Library staff still cleaning after Saturday morning fire

Monday, September 12, 2011 | 8:21 p.m. CDT; updated 9:07 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 12, 2011
Jim Wedemeier (left), fire investigator, and Pat Jones, head of security at Ellis Library, discuss the the damage from the Saturday morning fire. The cost of the damage is still unknown, but officials hope to have an estimate within a couple weeks.

COLUMBIA — MU's Ellis Library is set to reopen at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday morning with limited access, despite still-present damage from a fire that started on the building's main floor early Saturday morning.

Christopher C. Kelley, 25, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of second-degree arson, second-degree burglary, two counts of second-degree tampering and seven counts of second-degree property damage in connection with the fire, according to a previous Missourian report.

The sprinkler system that saved much of the library’s collection also caused most of the damage. Damaged carpet has been pulled out of many rooms, leaving a sticky residue. Industrial fans were blowing on the floor Monday afternoon to speed up the drying process.

Damage was mostly contained to the first floor, though some water seeped into the basement. Carpet had to be pulled up near the circulation desk and in the access services office, a nearby computer lab and the digital print services room.

Shannon Cary, communications officer for MU Libraries, said library staff won't have an estimate of the damage's cost for the next couple of weeks.

Water dripped through the floor and into the offices and research center of the State Historical Society, said Gary Kremer, the historical society's executive director.

Of the library's nearly 6,000 manuscript collections, two sustained minor water damage, Kremer said; he was not able to confirm which manuscripts they were.

The sprinklers also destroyed some duplicate microfilm reels. Kremer said he could not confirm what those reels contained.

The most significant flooding was in the offices located below the library’s circulation desk, near where the fire was started, Kremer said.

"We were very lucky," he said.

The State Historical Society announced today it will reopen its research center to the public at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, according to a news release. Cleanup will continue for the rest of the week.

The inter-library loan, reserve and circulation offices will be temporarily moved, according to a news release.

Cary said that though 70 to 80 books have been damaged, nothing irreplaceable was damaged and staff members are trying to preserve books that were damaged by water.

She said they were unsure how many books will be saved. The damaged books are being kept on the fourth floor in a preservation area.

Library workers came in over the weekend to move files and throw things away, Cary said, while Servpro cleaners spent Monday wiping soot off the walls.

“Staff worked very hard to clean up and went above and beyond the call of duty,” she said.

Julie Rogers, assistant head of security, said they still cannot comment on how the arsonist got in the building but said no one else was in the building at the time. Security looks for anyone who is in the library before it closes, she said.

She could not comment on how the fire was started or if an accelerant was used because the incident is still under investigation.

Cary said book fines will be waved for the time the library was not open. Cary also said the library is providing reference services online through emails or chats. People can also directly call in.

The MU Student Center will stay open until 2 a.m. Tuesday to give students a place to study, according to a news release.

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