DENVER — The race is on at the Colorado State Archives to save thousands of documents that were damaged when pipes burst in a building off E. 13th Avenue and Sherman Street last week.
The pipes in the half-decade-old building burst after temperatures in Denver dropped to around -24 degrees.
The damage was first noticed on Thursday when a pipe burst. Then, over the weekend, more pipes flooded three basement levels and the ground floor of the archives.
The building holds all types of documents, from legislative records to those from past governors and administrations, state agency documents, building blueprints, maps, court files and more.
“There are marriage records, there's divorce records, there are genealogical records. One of the interesting collections is our old prison record collection. So, there's a lot of stuff here,” said Doug Platt, the spokesman for the state archives.
While the state is working on digitizing some records, it’s a long and tedious process, and Colorado law requires archivists to maintain the original paper copies of some legal documents.
“So, there's a lot of documents here that no matter what we do, we can't dispose of or digitize the original paper copy,” Platt said.
Now, contractors and archive employees are in the process of going through thousands of boxes of papers to try to understand how much damage the burst pipes caused and then restore the documents.
Staff worked day and night and even into the holiday to try to save the paperwork from further damage.
Part of the process includes opening the boxes up and then freezing the wet papers to stop the water damage from spreading but also to dry them out.
“And then from there, we're going to determine what needs to be restored and to what degree,” Platt said.
For now, the state archives are closed to the public so that workers can focus on the cleanup efforts in a race to preserve state history.
“We don't maintain what most people kind of think of as a museum collection. We maintain something that is not quite as sexy, but certainly is as important,” Platt said.