For the second time in a little more than a year, a sprinkler system failure at the North Riverside Public Library flooded a portion of the building and forced it to close early on Jan. 7.

A sprinkler pipe above the ceiling of the main-floor meeting room burst at about 12:30 p.m., showering water into that room and the children’s meeting room below it. The library was open at the time and had to be evacuated as the fire department responded to the scene.

Damage to the two rooms was not as extensive as it was when a burst sprinkler head deluged the same area of the building on Nov. 22, 2015.  After that incident, the library was closed for about a week as personnel made sure the flooded areas were thoroughly dry and that there was no mold present.

Fire Chief Brian Basek said both incidents were unusual, because fire sprinklers typically only activate as a result of heat.

According to Basek, the nature of the Jan. 7 failure was different than the one in 2015. While a sprinkler head itself burst in the 2015 incident, this year’s failure was a pipe break. 

“Traditionally, this is very rare,” said Basek. “The last time, they told us it was a freak thing.”

The only common denominator to the two incidents is that both came on days when temperatures outside were below freezing. On Jan. 7 temperatures plunged into the single digits.

And that may have been the cause of this particular break, which happened at an elbow in the pipe, according to Ken Rouleau, who chairs the buildings and grounds committee for the library board.

Rouleau said that the area where the burst pipe was located was missing insulation and that the space above the ceiling “was like a wind tunnel. It was extremely cold. There’s no heat up there.”

According to Rouleau, library officials may have to find a way to provide some heat to that part of the building on a consistent basis, either by heating that area itself or removing ceiling tiles in order to allow heat to get into the space.

Rouleau said the area where the pipe burst has now been insulated.

“Hopefully, that’s it,” he said.

Lorene Kennard, who took the reins at the North Riverside Public Library a little more than a month ago, was not in the building at the time of the incident but was called to the scene after it happened.

Further damage was prevented, Kennard and Basek said, because the library was open at the time and it was caught sooner.

“It was very much more contained,” Kennard said.

As in 2015, library officials contacted the maintenance firm ServiceMaster to clean up the damage and dry out the rooms. The fire sprinkler company completed repairs to the pipe, and the library was able to reopen, except for the meeting room, on Jan. 9, according to Kennard.

But the library was closed for the remainder of Jan. 7 after the incident, said Kennard, because the fire department had to shut off water to the sprinkler system, which left the building temporarily without fire protection.

Kennard said Monday she did not know what the cost of cleanup and repair amounted to, because she hadn’t seen reports yet. The library district’s insurance policy will cover the cost, she said.

But with a second sprinkler system failure in less than two years, Kennard said the library board’s buildings and grounds committee would meet to make sure another such incident is prevented in the future.