Hilton Head Island's flooded library is a cautionary tale for other public and private building owners who might have faulty sprinkler heads and not know it.
A malfunctioning sprinkler head sent water into the Friends of the Library bookshop at the island library early Sept. 17. The bookshop held more than 3,500 books donated to raise money for the library, the group's single largest source of revenue. When firefighters opened the bookshop door, water poured into the main entrance, the entrance to the children's library and parts of the community room.
Beaufort County is now trying to determine whether sprinkler heads in the library and other county buildings were part of a recall that started in July 2001 and ended in August 2007.
The 1997 ELOC concealed pendant sprinkler is one of nearly 50 types of sprinkler heads recalled by the Central Sprinkler Company. A photo of one of the sprinkler heads in the bookshop, taken by The Island Packet, indicates that model is still in use there.
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The recall program involved 33 million systems that use pipes filled with pressurized water and manufactured between 1989 and 2000. Under the recall, sprinkler heads were replaced at the manufacturer's expense with ones containing a more reliable rubber seal.
That time frame raises questions about the reliability of sprinkler heads in other public and private facilities built in that period. The Hilton Head library was built in 1998.
County spokesman Joy Nelson said Beaufort County staff became aware of the recall several years ago and replaced some sprinklers in county buildings. But she said she was unsure how or exactly when the county learned of the recall. Also unclear is whether the sprinklers were replaced as part of Central's recall program.
Nelson said that if the library's sprinkler heads were part of the recall, the county will have to inspect every county building sprinkler system, including offices in Beaufort and Bluffton and on Hilton Head, the county courthouse and sheriff offices.
The Beaufort County School District, which built and added on to a number of schools during those years, says it will get its contractor to inspect each school and check for recalled sprinklers.
Private building owners should do the same.
The good news for the county is that its insurance is expected to cover the cleanup costs. And even if the defective sprinkler head turns out to be a recalled model, it won't affect the claim or the county's level of coverage. The exact dollar amount hadn't been determined as of last week.
If the county or the school district find that sprinkler heads now in any of their buildings were subject to the recall, the next question to answer is why they weren't replaced at the manufacturer's expense between 2001 and 2007. Officials should do all they can to prevent another damaging incident.
As for Friends of the Library, we're confident the community will step forward to restock their store so that its good works on behalf of the library can continue.