Hilton Head library only county-owned building with recalled fire sprinkler parts

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comOctober 19, 2013 

This file photo shows the library after it was damaged by a malfunctioing sprinkler system.


The Hilton Head Island library is the only county-owned building that still has recalled fire sprinkler components in use, and they will be replaced soon, according to a report released Friday.

The report details the investigation conducted by county staff and contractor Sentry Sprinklers after a malfunctioning fire sprinkler head caused the Hilton Head library to flood Sept. 17, ruining thousands of books in the Friends of the Library bookshop.

According to the report, the 220 fire sprinklers in the library are a model that was part of a voluntary recall issued by Central Sprinkler Co. in July 2001 and should be replaced.

"While the current fire suppression system has been inspected by both Sentry Sprinklers and the Hilton Head Fire Department and has been found to be fully operational, it is my recommendation that the County replace the sprinkler heads out of an abundance of caution," Beaufort County facilities director Mark Roseneau said in the report.

Replacing the sprinkler heads in the library should cost no more than $7,500, according to Roseneau's recommendation.

County administrator Gary Kubic said he will ask the facilities staff Monday morning to price replacements. The work should be completed within 15 to 30 days once a contractor is hired and should have no impact on library services, according to the recommendation.

After learning the library sprinklers had components involved in the Central recall, county staff checked other county-maintained buildings for recalled models, according to the report. That was about 10 buildings total, including county offices in Beaufort and Bluffton and on Hilton Head, as well as the county courthouse and sheriff's offices, county spokeswoman Joy Nelson has said.

County staff found no other recalled models, but Sentry Sprinklers will also perform inspections to verify those findings, according to the report.

The Beaufort County School District employs its own contractors for sprinkler installations and inspections. After learning that recalled models were installed in the Hilton Head library, it planned checks of its buildings, according to district construction officer Robert Oetting.

About half of the district's buildings have been checked so far, and no recalled sprinkler heads have been found, he said.

The district's checks could be completed by the end of the week, Oetting said.

The sprinkler heads in the library are among nearly 50 types of heads recalled by Central Sprinkler Co. because faulty rubber O-ring seals could corrode, preventing the sprinklers from activating during a fire, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The defect was not the cause of the library accident, in which a mechanical failure caused the sprinkler to discharge when there was no fire, according to the report.

The recall was voluntary, but Central Sprinklers created a program to install more reliable rubber seals in the recalled products. Through the program, which ended in 2007, the recalled sprinkler heads could be replaced at the manufacturer's expense. However, the county never received notice of the program, according to the report.

That could be because of a hiccup in the construction of the library, which was completed in 1998.

The company first hired to install the fire sprinkler system defaulted on its contract during construction, forcing the contractor's bonding company to hire a second firm to finish the project, according to the report

"If a notice from the (manufacturer) was sent to the entity that purchased the sprinkler heads for this building, it may have been delivered to an entity that is no longer in business or no longer had a relationship with the county," Roseneau wrote in the report.

After the Sept. 17 malfunction, the county filed a claim with the S.C. Budget and Control Board Insurance Reserve Fund to cover the damage, Nelson said. The findings in Friday's report will not change the amount paid for the claim or the county's coverage level, said Rebecca Griggs, Budget and Control Board spokeswoman.

On Wednesday, the Friends of the Library Bookshop unofficially reopened, and its shelves are again full of books, according to Lynne Miller, Friends president.

After the bookshop was dry, county facilities staff repaired the walls and cleaned the shelves and furniture, Miller said. The books soaked up enough water that the bookcases they were stored on were spared, she added.

"(County facilities staff) did a tremendously wonderful job," Miller said. "They did a fabulous job of getting us back up and running."

The bookshop will reopen at 1 p.m. Nov. 5 for the library's 15th birthday party, Miller said. The celebration includes cake, refreshments and a dry bookshop.


Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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