From the outside, Hale Library looks relatively normal. Sure, there is a fence around it, and there is obviously some sort of construction going on, but the building’s exterior does not mirror the level of destruction inside.
This week we started a new semester, complete with new students wondering why the library is under construction. Even though we have been posting updates, there seems to be a disconnect with students about why Hale Library isn’t open.
In order to get a student’s perspective on what’s happening inside the building, the week before finals I joined a group of K-State Libraries Student Ambassadors on a tour so I could see the damage through their eyes and get their honest opinions.
The inside of the building has been stripped of almost all furniture and carpet, with a few remaining belongings sitting on the second floor. Most of the building is unrecognizable, and extension cords trail along the ceiling for lighting.
“I remember walking around Hale thinking that I knew where we were, and then Dean Lori would say something and I would realize that I had no idea where I was,” said Matthew Millholm, a junior agricultural education major.
The second floor is home to a few tables that survived the fire and random boxes. Wefald said of the second floor, “I was surprised that there was still some stuff left inside on one of the floors, like office chairs, desks, and even Christmas decorations.”
The combination of the exposed wall and partially destroyed tile on the staircase between the first and second floors was haunting, but we made it. From there, we took the elevator to the third and fourth floors, which was terrifying, but in different ways: There are no lights in the elevator. It was pitch dark.
This really brought home what Dean Lori Goetsch explained to us about the power in the building: Right now, all of the electricity is a low level of “construction power” that is brought into Hale Library from outside. As a result, areas that don’t absolutely have to be lit up (like the elevators) are left dark. It will be a huge job to replace all of the building’s electrical wiring so that it has its own power again.
“The third and fourth floors are completely empty,” Milholm said. “I think that’s where I really realized that the renovation is going to be a lot longer process than what I expected.”
The Great Room has seen better days but is under active construction. We barged in on two workers who looked very surprised to see us. Despite the scaffolding and the construction, the room is still gorgeous.
“It was a little bittersweet going inside the Great Room and walking by my old study spot because it really does look like a completely different building now,” Victoria Sparkman, a senior political science major, said.
After the fire, all the carpet needed to be torn out. As we exited the Great Room, we encountered a portion of the floor that is still alarmingly sticky from carpet glue.
Even after all of the demolition and repairs, there are still places in the building that look beautiful. This is the woodworking room, boxed in by plastic sheets and dedicated to repairing wooden trim from the Great Room.
The fourth floor was probably the most terrifying of all. The students—and, off the record, some of the adults—thought it would have made an excellent haunted house, with the exposed brick, scattered debris, and office space that has been temporarily transformed into a lair of some kind.
“It was very cool to see the old brick walls that were covered up when Hale was expanded over the years; it was like seeing more of Hale’s history,” Sparkman said.
The fifth floor is surprisingly intact because it was not damaged by the water. Because of this, desks, carpet and other items were left behind. This floor is where special collections were housed, so they escaped intact, although they were moved offsite for storage and will need to be cleaned.
“One of the weirdest things was going to the fifth floor and having it look relatively normal while the rest of the building looked so different,” Wefald said.
The final part of the tour took us to the stacks for special collections. There was a fan on somewhere in the room that made the plastic sheeting move. This, paired with the dangling light bulbs at the end of the dark bookshelves, made for a terrifying experience.
“After leaving the tour, I realized we are going to have a brand new building,” Milholm said. “I know that the current students will have a library that is fit for them. I won’t be in school when Hale reopens, but I’m still excited about the new library.”
At the end of the tour, we were all excited that we had the opportunity to see the inside of Hale. For the students who will graduate before it reopens, it was lovely to be able to say goodbye to the library that has been their favorite study spot for so long.