Hale Library Fire

Firetrucks at the scene of a fire at K-State’s Hale Library on May 22, 2018. Seventeen months after the fire, university officials estimate the library’s clean up and restoration efforts will total more than $87 million after the library completely reopens in late 2020.

What originally had been a $774,000 roofing project at K-State’s Hale Library is now expected to balloon to a nearly $90 million restoration and renovation project.

After a May 2018 roof fire at the library led to water and smoke damage to much of the building and its materials, university officials estimate that Hale’s combined cleanup, restoration and renovation costs will total about $87 million.

Cindy Bontrager, vice president for administration and finance, said the university’s insurance plan through the Midwest Higher Education Compact has so far paid $58 million of the estimated $80 million in insurance funds to clean and restore the library to its condition before the fire. She said the university and insurance adjusters are still working through the renovation costs.

“Our policy is for like-to-like, so they will restore us back to the way we were,” Bontrager said. “With the library, it’s a great opportunity to reimagine the space, and that’s basically what they have done. We’re going to have a better library, not only for students but for our faculty and staff.”

Insurance renovation costs by themselves are about $36 million, and the rest of the insurance money is going to cleanup and restoration.

The rest of the funds have gone toward stabilizing the library and replacing much of the building’s flooded interior, as well as removing and cleaning the library’s estimated 1.5 million books, Bontrager said.

John Morris, senior vice president of development at the KSU Foundation, said an additional $7.35 million in private donations will help pay for library enhancements that won’t be covered by insurance.

The library’s first floor, which was to undergo a $6 million remodel prior to the fire, opened as a study space in August, and the second floor is scheduled to open sometime during the spring semester. The rest of the building, including the Great Room in the historic Farrell Library portion of the building, is set to open by the end of 2020.

Darchelle Martin, public relations officer for K-State Libraries, said library officials are taking the renovation as an opportunity to retool some of its spaces using the private funding. She said that beautiful architectural space that had previously been used for office cubicles and bookshelves in the Farrell Library portion will be reimagined as reading and study rooms similar to the Great Room. The library also will add a large classroom for the librarians to use.

Martin said the library does not yet have a total estimate for cost of the new spaces, as officials are still sorting out insurance payouts and private fundraising dollars in the ongoing renovation efforts.

K-State’s insurance policy has been in effect since 2008, which Bontrager said is relatively recent given the university’s 156-year history.

The university bought the policy after a June 2008 tornado caused significant damage to campus buildings. Bontrager said that Federal Emergency Management Agency funds supported restoration efforts then, but previous restoration funds mostly came from the state legislature.

The university’s only direct expense for the Hale Library restoration is the $500,000 deductible on the insurance policy, Bontrager said, in addition to its $896,000 annual premium. K-State’s claim was one of the largest of several claims the Midwest Higher Education Compact saw in 2018, and that’s increased any future deductibles to $1 million.

Rafael Garcia is The Mercury's education reporter, covering USD 383, surrounding districts and Kansas State University. Follow him on Twitter @byRafaelGarcia.