A portion of Kansas State University’s fire-gutted Hale Library is expected to reopen this fall.
After months of demolition work, the restoration project has moved into the rebuilding phase. This will be the fourth time Hale Library, K-State’s flagship library, endured extensive renovations.
A fire struck the library’s roof on May 22, 2018. While the flames were contained to the roof, the university says several hundreds of thousands of gallons of water flowed through the 550,000-sq. ft. building during the firefighting efforts.
About 85% of the library and most of its contents were damaged. It took crews more than eight months to remove debris like ceiling tiles, carpet and drywall. The wiring was also lost, and in some areas, entire walls were stripped down to the metal studs.
Signs of progress are apparent inside the building now: Walls are going up, and crews are reinstalling wiring and other infrastructure. There is a new entrance.
K-State Dean of Libraries Lori Goetsch says it is encouraging to see the first floor transformation.
“We have a café on that floor, and we can see where the café space is going to be, and where the hallway is going to go," she says. "We have a number of group study rooms on that floor and we can start to see the layout of how those rooms are going to be arranged."
There will also be a multipurpose meeting room.
While the library is being rebuilt, restoration experts at ten sites are cleaning smoke and soot damage from more than a million books and library materials. The collection was removed from the library after the fire and moved into long-term storage in Kansas and Texas.
Goetsch says each item is being cleaned individually by hand.
“They get vacuumed and wiped down with a chemical sponge, and then they are put into an ozone chamber that takes the smoke smell out of them,” she says.
Goetsch says less than 1% of Hale’s collection was lost in the fire. She says most rare and valuable materials in the university’s archives and special collections were located just below the fire line and experienced only very minor smoke damage.
The university continues to work through the claims process with insurance companies. Insurance is expected to cover like-for-like replacement costs.
Goetsch says it may be a while before a final cost estimate for the renovations is determined.
“It’s an amazing amount of detail that they need to go through in terms of looking at all the unsalvaged materials, everything that was lost in the building, and valuing it,” Goetsch says.
A report by the Kansas Board of Regents estimated the library's replacement to cost $109 million, with renovations that could total $60 million.
Hale Library, K-State’s first freestanding campus library, was built in 1927. Goetsch says an addition came in 1950, with building renovations and expansions in 1970 and 1996.
The library will reopen in phases, with the first floor opening this fall. The entire building renovation is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.