Lakeland wades through city hall flood

Borrowed and purchased fans helped to dry out Lakeland City Hall.
Borrowed and purchased fans helped to dry out the flooded Lakeland City Hall.
Photos by Carolyn Bahm

Express Editor

Lakeland lived up to its name with a burst water heater flooding City Hall last weekend, doing $50,000 in damages.

One to two inches of water seeped throughout much of the building, city manager Chris Thomas said. The flooding soaked carpets, fried computers that were housed under desks, damaged boxes of files, and ruined phone equipment and speakers.

City treasurer Pamela Walker said a fellow employee entered through the kitchen around 11 a.m. on Sunday, saw water puddled around the fridge and thought it was a minor problem … until he opened the door to the board room. One glance at the vast roomful of standing water was enough.

A review of security footage showed water leaking from the building on Friday, she said, so water was spraying from the destroyed heater through the entire weekend.

Thomas said a part went bad on the heater, causing the damage. The replacement water heater will have an automatic safety shutoff valve to ensure this kind of disaster doesn’t recur. He is grateful for small blessings — if it had been another of the building’s water heaters (mounted in the attic) that burst, damage could have been much worse. Multiple water heaters may be replaced with safer versions during the repairs.

The city had ServiceMaster working until about 8 p.m. Sunday night, vacuuming out the water and working to salvage what they could. Most of the damage was in the building’s newest addition. Flooding also reached the new school superintendent’s temporary offices at city hall.

Today, dehumidifiers and giant fans are humming throughout the building in hopes of salvaging some of the carpets, and boxes, electronics and piles of other belongings are piled on tables crowded into hallways. ServiceMaster removed baseboards in all the wet rooms and drilled holes at floor level to ventilate the walls, in hopes of saving the Sheetrock. Many of the fans were loaned by Bartlett, Germantown and Shelby County because ServiceMaster didn’t have any available, and Lakeland bought additional fans. The roar of all that air movement is deafening, but the carpet was dry to the touch in some rooms by Monday afternoon.

The Lakeland school board moves its meeting time to 7:15 p.m. Monday night and changed the location to the International Harvester (IH) Clubhouse on nearby Canada Road. Other meetings are expected to resume in City Hall as normal.

“It may be a little messy, but it’s functional,” Thomas said.

Repairs are expected to take two to three weeks but no longer than Feb. 1, Thomas said. The city may need to use a modular office during the interim for about a half dozen employees to use during the work.

The good news is that no data should be permanently lost from the electronic damage, thanks to network backup systems. Thomas said, “We don’t think there’s any data that can’t be restored.”

He remains optimistic, and city hall remains open for business. “It might slow us down a little bit, but we’re trying to keep moving.”

Flood in Lakeland City Hall
Lakeland city manager Chris Thomas provided this picture showing some of the city hall flooding.
Baseboard removal and wall ventilation
City treasurer Pamela Walker shows where waterlogged baseboards had to be removed throughout Lakeland City Hall and holes drilled to ventilate the walls during the drying-out period.
Piles of files drying out in Lakeland City Hall.
Files, electronics and more were piled high on tables and chairs in the corridors of Lakeland City Hall while carpets dried.
City hall used dehumidifiers to dry out after the flooding.
Lakeland City Hall used multiple dehumidifiers to dry out after the flooding.