Culture News

Here's Everything We Know About Burton Barr Central Library's Closure

Looking east across Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix earlier in 2017.
Looking east across Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix earlier in 2017. Lynn Trimble
Burton Barr Central Library is closed until further notice due to damage sustained during a monsoon on Saturday, July 15, says Lee Franklin, community relations manager for Phoenix Public Library.

Completed in 1995, the five-story library was designed by Phoenix architect Will Bruder.

It's built around a central core with a roof inspired by Buckminster Fuller's tensegrity structures. The fifth floor comprises a one-acre reading room, while the first includes an auditorium, art gallery, children's section, and other amenities. The library also houses a rare book room.

Library officials have shared information about the closure and damage with the public through its website, social media, and emails to patrons.

Here's what happened, according to Franklin.

A microburst caused the damage at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 15. It lifted the roof's tiles and a waterproof membrane under the tiles that was designed to protect the structure from extreme weather.

Building staff noticed water coming from the roof just before 8 p.m. Fire crews responded and located the source of the leak.

A broken sprinkler system in the high roof in the library's northwest quadrant had caused water to flood the library's fifth floor. Water then spread to remaining floors.  At one point, there were several inches of standing water on the first floor.

"This hurts a little," Franklin says of seeing all the damage. "We're librarians; we love books and getting the community information." While the library is closed, librarians will be relocated to other branches in the Phoenix Public Library system.

Damage assessment is underway. Bruder arrived at the library Sunday morning to assist with evaluating the damage. A structural engineer is also helping with that task.

"It's too soon to know the extent of the damage or the cost to repair it," Franklin told New Times by phone late Monday afternoon, July 17. But she does have a general idea of what they're dealing with.

"Fifty percent of the building was affected by water, on all five floors," Franklin says. "But more of our collection is fine than is damaged." The rare book room, where the library keeps more than 5,000 rare volumes, wasn't breached. Neither were the first floor computers that support community access to the library, she says.

Initial efforts to save library items have included moving books and other materials off-site. Many will be relocated to other Phoenix Public Library locations, Franklin says. Library officials are working with the City of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture to find appropriate storage for artworks from various library spaces.

Over the weekend, more than 300 drying fans, powered by an emergency generator, and dozens of dehumidifiers were installed at the library.

"We're all so touched by the outpouring from the community," Franklin says.

Library officials are directing people to 16 additional Phoenix Public Library branches until further notice. Patrons with items on hold or questions about other library services can find information on the Phoenix Public Library website.

Late Monday afternoon, the Phoenix Public Library posted a call for volunteers on its website. "We want you to come help us, and we'll continue to help the community," Franklin says to concerned patrons.

We'll update as more information becomes available.
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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble