Aberdeen museum recovery still weeks away

Attempts to recover artifacts from the Aberdeen Museum of History are still in the distant future.

According to Aberdeen Parks Director Stacie Barnum, the city needs to hire a structural engineer to assess what areas of the structure are unsafe before anyone is allowed in to recover items that may have survived June’s Armory building fire.

Barnum said it could take up to four weeks before the city hires the engineer and begins work.

After that, Barnum said the city would need a separate company to clean up the building and a third group that would carry out the recovery. All of these contractors would need to be approved by the Aberdeen City Council before being hired.

The primary concern for former museum director Dann Sears is that the exhibition catalog is still inside the building on computer hard drives. Sears said he wishes the process to recover artifacts could go faster, as with every passing day it becomes more likely the hard drive is not salvageable.

“That window of time is closing for us, if we don’t get in there and get them out, chances are (the hard drives) will corrode and rust, and we won’t be able to get the information on those,” said Sears.

The digital catalog has important information for each artifact in the museum, such as the date it’s from, the manufacturer, who donated it and where it was stored in the museum.

This same catalog is stored both on a basement computer hard drive and on a server on the main floor. The basement floor had been filled with four feet of water at one point.

When hired companies come in to clean the museum and make it safe for entry, Sears said he hopes they take precautions to avoid damaging any artifacts that may be hidden under rubble

“I wouldn’t like to just see people shoveling stuff into a pile with a fork loader,” said Sears. “It’s almost like an archaeological site now.”

Shortly after the fire, Mayor Erik Larson declared a state of emergency so he could enter into a contract with ServPro, which salvaged documents from the basement archives, without needing the City Council’s approval.

At this week’s council meeting, Aberdeen City Attorney Patrice Kent said the city wanted to use the state of emergency so Larson could enter into a contract with a structural engineer without needing council approval.

However, because so much time has passed since the state of emergency was made, Kent said the city’s auditor would not approve of the city entering an agreement in this way.

“The final response that came from the auditor was: It’s too long since it happened,” said Kent. “Despite that we didn’t know when the site would be released, that we didn’t know when we’d have these opportunities, the auditor said internally, ‘We will not be able to stand behind an emergency proclamation for contracting at this phase.’”

When a salvage company is hired by the city, Barnum said they would be the only ones allowed into the building due to the various hazards.

“There are a lot of different kinds of mold in there,” said Barnum. “We’ll have to test for asbestos. There are too many hazardous materials for just an average person to go in there.”