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Georgetown Library Sustains Water Damage

By Katie PearceCurrent Staff Writer

The Georgetown Neighborhood Library is expected to reopen the second week of March following cleanup of flood damage, though the library’s Peabody Room will remain closed for a few weeks longer.

On Feb. 13, frigid temperatures caused a sprinkler pipe to burst in the third-floor Peabody Room, which houses a collection of Georgetown historical artifacts dating back to the 1750s. The water then seeped down to the second and first floors of the library at 3260 R St.

Special collections librarian Jerry McCoy said the Peabody Room largely “dodged a bullet” with the burst pipe — no artwork was damaged, and nothing was destroyed beyond repair.

What did get wet, McCoy said, were “five banker’s boxes” full of unprocessed archival materials — a hodgepodge of items that had been donated to the collection. “Unfortunately they were right under where the water break occurred,” he said.

Currently those materials, which include papers, files and photo negatives, are undergoing restoration work in the Washingtoniana Division of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library downtown.

McCoy said the process involves freezing the items, then thawing them out. “Once all the materials are dried out, they’ll go back to the Peabody Room,” he said.

He estimated that the collection would reopen to the public toward the end of March.

As for the rest of the library, at least a portion of it should reopen the week of March 9, according to George Williams, spokesperson for the D.C. Public Library system.

Williams couldn’t provide a cost estimate for the total cleanup, which includes replacing drywall and removing wet insulation to avoid the risk of mold. He said the leaking water affected mainly the center of the building, including the foyer area of the first floor, but “there was no damage to books and those types of items.”

As part of the restoration, Williams said, “the architect is going to take a look at ways so we can prevent something like this from happening in the future.”

The R Street library has already seen its share of destruction. Back in 2007, a fire caused by a heat gun devastated the Georgian Revival building, which closed for three years for the $18 million rebuilding process.

“We certainly have a lot of these weird events happening at the library,” McCoy said. “This is the second one I’ve been through, and I hope we don’t have any more.”

Not only are such events “disruptive to the collection,” he said, but also for the patrons and researchers who can’t access it.

McCoy said one of the boxes drenched in the flood previously suffered water damage in the aftermath of the 2007 fire.

That box contained photography from the 1970s, including black-and-white images of different houses in Georgetown. “Those poor photos,” he said. “They got soaked again.”

This article appears in the Feb. 25 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.