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Frozen sprinkler line behind City Hall flood

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | February 25, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — If staff hadn't been working late, the damage from a frozen sprinkler line could have been much worse.

When the line froze, Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said it caused a sprinkler to spray water in City Hall, ultimately sending it from the second floor to the first floor. In some areas, there was standing water of up to two inches.

"We've had just a number of building issues and failures," Stapleton said. "We've had a big roof leak on the second floor, kind of in the same area, about two years ago and so we had replaced the roof with that but it's just over time, I think a combination of deferred upgrades and deferred capital are kind of catching up to us right now."

Fortunately, much of the damage on the first floor was cosmetic with about a fourth of the ceiling damage saturated by the water, causing them to fall onto desks and the floor below.

"Our City Hall building is tired," she said.

It's likely that lack of insulation in the roof area at City Hall caused the sprinkler line to freeze.

"Staff have historically made do with City Hall as it is," Stapleton said. "So there were doors to mechanical rooms that had to be left open, doors to storage rooms that had to be left open, the door to the second floor had to be left open to move heat up there because there was inadequate insulation in the building," she said.

Addressing the issue was among the areas identified for a future renovation at the building, purchased several decades ago from Coldwater Creek. Since that time, Stapleton said there have been no significant updates of the building since that time.

The area where the sprinkler line likely froze is in an area that had not yet been addressed in a remodel. Unfortunately, Stapleton said, the leak and water happened over an area where the recent customer service remodel had taken place.

After the city announced it was closing City Hall due to the water leak, some posted comments online saying city officials knew about the problem and should have taken steps to prevent the line from freezing. Stapleton said the issue should have been addressed with proper insulation "a significant amount of time ago."

What prevented the damage from being worse was the presence of some staff who were still in the building when the water started seeping from the second to the first floor, Stapleton said.

An alarm to alert staff to such a situation is located in the police department. However, all of the officers were out on patrol.

"We definitely would have had a lot more water and a lot more damage than we did fortunately, because a few of us were still working in the office," she said.

What many may not realize is the City Hall facility is actually two buildings combined into one — the fire and police departments and council chambers are in what was once the Coldwater Creek warehouse. The rest of the building to the north is in what was once the company's offices.

When an engineer inspected the building as part of the first remodel, Stapleton said structural issues were found in the fire bay which had to be addressed. If the building had been hit or there had been a significant earthquake, she said there could have been catastrophic damage to the building.

In addition, a transfer switch on the generator, which doesn't incorporate the entire building, failed during the last windstorm as well as a host of other problems due to the age of the building.

"I think that we all feel fortunate that we really started undertaking these upgrade efforts because these end-of-useful-life issues, capital improvement, and structural issues that needed to be addressed in the building have kind of been chasing us through all of these remodels," the city administrator said.

As the remodel project moved forward, she said improvements are being done with an eye to bring value to the city's taxpayers, from switching to energy-efficient LED lights to installing a building-wide generator that will allow the city to use the facility as an emergency warming shelter.

While the city had planned to be closed Wednesday and Thursday, Stapleton said residents still showed up both days to pay their utility bills and handle other business. Staff were moved into the city and fire areas and to the council chambers where they were able to help the public.

"I think beyond us having the technology to do that, I really give

kudos to our staff," she said. "People just rolled up their sleeves [Wednesday] and moved around spaces and got to work as soon as they came to work this morning without skipping a beat."

City Hall should be open to the public today.