Culture News

Review After Burton Barr Flood: Phoenix Buildings Need $7 Million in Safety Repairs

Stacks emptied of damaged books at Burton Barr Central Library, which was severely damaged by flooding in 2017.
Stacks emptied of damaged books at Burton Barr Central Library, which was severely damaged by flooding in 2017. Lynn Trimble

click to enlarge Stacks emptied of damaged books at Burton Barr Central Library, which was severely damaged by flooding in 2017. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Stacks emptied of damaged books at Burton Barr Central Library, which was severely damaged by flooding in 2017.
Lynn Trimble

The city of Phoenix has completed a review of life-safety systems undertaken after last year’s flooding at Burton Barr Central Library.

The city determined that nearly two dozen buildings needed immediate repair. However, the review found no buildings presenting an imminent threat to personal safety, according to a city spokesperson.

The flagship branch of the Phoenix Public Library's 17-branch system was closed for nearly a year as the result of storm damage caused in part by unaddressed maintenance issues.

The damage occurred on July 15, 2017, and 11 city employees were subsequently disciplined related to that incident. The library reopened on June 16, 2018.


In the storm's aftermath, the city undertook a review of nearly 700 city-owned buildings, in order to determine whether other maintenance issues might pose significant risks.

Now, the city has a plan in place to make those repairs.

The city’s recently approved budget for fiscal year 2018-19 includes $7 million for those repairs, which will begin this month. It’s expected they’ll take 18 months to two years.

Repairs are happening at public buildings, buildings for city employees, and facilities dealing with critical infrastructure.


Several of those repairs include fire safety-related systems. The fire safety system will be upgraded at Century Library, for example, and the fire sprinkler system will be upgraded at Valley Youth Theatre.

In April, the city adopted an interim policy for fire protection systems in city-managed facilities, which established citywide standards and guidelines.

click to enlarge Looking northeast across Central Avenue toward Burton Barr Central Library while it was closed for repairs. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Looking northeast across Central Avenue toward Burton Barr Central Library while it was closed for repairs.
Lynn Trimble
The 2017 flooding at Burton Barr Central Library occurred after storm damage caused the fire sprinkler system to activate, leading to water damage on all five floors.

Other types of repairs are also being undertaken, such as fixing leaks at South Mountain Community Center and replacing the electrical distribution system for the Police Academy.

In addition, City Manager Ed Zuercher has assigned a full-time staff person to oversee regular maintenance and needed upgrades for all city buildings.

Art Fairbanks is performing those duties as Assistant to the City Manager. He’ll be working with city departments to clarify what needs to be done, and who is responsible for doing it.

The bottom line is decreasing the likelihood that the city will experience another Burton Barr Central Library-type incident, which resulted in $11.5 million in repair and renovation costs.

Insurance proceeds covered $9.4 million, according to a memo Zuercher submitted to the Mayor and City Council on June 28. Another $2.1 million came from city reserves.
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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