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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Busted Sprinkler Pipes Flood Boston Athenaeum

A faulty sprinkler system flooded the first floor of the Boston Athenaeum yesterday, soaking thousands of books, sculptures, carpets and paintings.

Staff and patrons at the 162-year-old National Historic Landmark were alerted to the problem shortly before 3 p.m. yesterday when the fire alarm went off, activated by the broken sprinkler, director Paula Matthews said. By the time everyone was out of the private library at 10 1⁄ 2 Beacon Street, the water was already “quite deep.”

“I was splashing around,” said Matthews, who estimated that it reached about 6 inches and dripped through to the basement.

Fire department spokesman Steve MacDonald said firemen shut off the building’s water main, stopping the water within 45 minutes. Investigators were looking at the frigid weather as a possible cause, he added.

“It’s never quick when a sprinkler head activates,” MacDonald said. “It takes a while for the water to drain.”

The flood struck the building’s plush Long Room, which is used for events. Matthews said it affected a small portion of the library’s 600,000-strong collection and hit no particularly valuable objects.

“It could have been much worse,” Matthew said.

Workers were still clearing the building at 10 last night. The Athenaeum will be closed today, and likely the rest of the week, Matthews said.

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