Renovated Courthouse Flooded in Heating Mishap

By Beacon Staff

The 108-year-old Flathead County courthouse was flooded on Dec. 20, after a sprinkler head went off in response to a heating system malfunction.

Trapped heat caused a sprinkler head on the third floor to go off, according to CTA Architect Engineers project manager Corey Johnson. The building’s heat comes from steam, Johnson said, and somehow the hot air that was supposed to be discharged got trapped near the sprinkler.

“[The sprinkler] did just what it was supposed to do,” Johnson said.

The sprinkler triggered a fire alarm at about 4:20 a.m. on Dec. 20, causing a quick fire department response. In the time it took firefighters to turn off the sprinkler, it was pumping roughly 10 to 20 gallons of water per minute, Johnson said.

Water from the third floor leaked down to the first and second floors into the Human Resources and Election department offices. On Dec. 20, crews from Rainbow International Restoration were busy drying out carpets and assessing the damage.

Johnson said most of the water damage occurred on the first and second floors of the building. He said staff will continue to figure out how the problem occurred and try to make sure it does not happen again.

According to Flathead County Administrator Mike Pence, the Human Resources office was hit the hardest, though all of the county’s personnel files escaped unscathed.

The only piece of equipment that was critically damaged was a small laser printer, Pence said, and the county lost several reams of paper. During their response, firefighters took care to move cardboard boxes out of puddles and saved other items, he said.

County employees are still in the transition to their new offices in the recently renovated courthouse, which received over $2 million worth of improvements in the past year.

Paula Robinson, Flathead County’s clerk and recorder and election administrator, said the multiple dehumidifiers and fans running in the building have been “a little overwhelming” for the employees housed there, but she expected the loudest work to take place over the Christmas holiday.

Employees were scheduled to return to their offices on Dec. 26, and Robinson said the restoration crews would seal off the doors to the affected areas with plastic and turn up the heat to aid in the drying process.

Though the water flowed down through the building, Pence said the ceiling tiles sustained the most damage and would likely need to be replaced. The carpet will probably be all right, he said, because it was soaked with clean water.

Pence said all costs from the water damage will be covered through the architect’s and contractor’s insurance, and the county will not have to “pony up” for the bill.

“It’s going to get fixed pretty quick,” Pence said.

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