Of the Baker City Herald

A broken pipe in Baker City Hall doused the historic building with thousands of gallons of water last night, soaking ceilings, drenching carpets and causing an estimated $500,000 in damage.

Water was confined to the south half of the building at 1655 First St., City Manager Gordon Zimmerman said this morning.

He said the buildings interior resembled a tropical rain forest when he arrived about 11 p.m. Monday.

It was just raining, Zimmerman said. Everything got wet.

Although most of the standing water was gone this morning, the air inside the 98-year-old building remained humid, the air still smelling of damp carpet and plaster.

Zimmerman said city officials dont yet know what caused the 1-inch diameter pipe, which is in the attic above the second-floor hallway, to fail.

As far as city workers can determine, the section of pipe that broke hasnt needed any work for at least 15 years.

Its possible that shaking from the Washington earthquake earlier this year weakened the pipes fittings, although thats pure speculation, Zimmerman said.

We have no clue as of this morning, he said.

Insurance should pay for all repairs, Zimmerman said.

In fact, the leak may accelerate the citys plans to replace carpeting and do other projects that are part of its long-term goal to renovate City Hall, he said.

The water apparently didnt cause any structural damage, Zimmerman said.

The citys business office, which is in the undamaged northern part of City Hall, was open as usual today.

The council chambers, which are at the north end of the second floor, werent affected, either, and this evenings city council meeting will take place as scheduled, Zimmerman said.

The breach occurred along the pipe that feeds City Halls fire sprinkler system.

That system operates under high pressure, and when the pipe ruptured water poured out in a torrent rather than a drip.

Water spouted about 40 feet across the attic.

A firefighter detected the problem when he heard the braying alarm thats connected to the sprinkler system, Zimmerman said.

There is an alarm buzzer in the alley that separates City Hall from the fire department.

Zimmerman said its likely the water spewed for at least an hour before workers switched it off at a valve in the basement.

The water percolated all the way to that lowest level, causing extensive damage along the way, Zimmerman said.

On the second floor, several offices were soaked, including Zimmermans, at the buildings southwest corner.

The water ruined a new coat of paint workers spread just last week, Zimmerman said.

He and several other city employees, including a contingent from the fire department summoned by a general alarm, worked for about 3 hours early this morning, covering computers and furniture with plastic and canvas tarps and moving irreplaceable paper maps and other documents.

They used squeegees to push the two- to three-inch accumulation of water from parts of the second floor onto canvas tarps laid along the stairs leading to the street level, Zimmerman said.

The water flowed down the tarps to the first-floor landing, but theres a slight uphill grade there and the water soaked into the carpet rather than tumbling out the front doors as intended.

Elsewhere on the first floor, the technical services department office, at the southwest corner, was drenched.

Water damaged and probably ruined several computers there, including a $9,000 plotting machine and a 21-inch monitor.

Joyce Curtis, who works in technical services, said employees moved many irreplaceable maps to the fire department, which also will service as the temporary technical services office.

Dripping water eventually made it to the basement, where workers found it at least three inches deep in the concrete-floored room next to the boiler.

A clogged drain pipe complicated things temporarily, Zimmerman said, but workers cleared it before the water could rise far enough to affect the boiler.

Water also dripped into the basement room where the city stores its records, some of which date back more than a century.

Zimmerman wasnt sure this morning whether any of those records was ruined.