New Mexico Capitol Building Evacuated After Pipe Break

December 12, 2005

New Mexico’s Capitol will remain closed this weekend because of a broken pipe that sent water dripping from the top floor to the basement.

There was no immediate estimate of the damage, which Legislative Council Service Spokesman John Yaeger said occurred on every floor but appeared to be confined largely to the middle sections of the round, four-story building in Santa Fe.

Fans and dehumidifiers have been set up to help dry out the building, and workers were monitoring the cleanup, he said.

Carpet, ceilings and walls were among the materials damaged by the water.

“What we’re trying to figure out right now is how much can be dried” rather than requiring replacement, Yaeger said.

Workers were seen removing sodden ceiling tiles from a gallery area adjacent to the building’s east-side lobby.

The Capitol houses an extensive, multimillion-dollar art collection, including paintings, photographs, carved furniture, weavings and mixed media works by New Mexico artists.

“A lot of the art got taken down and stored at a safer place,” Yaeger said. “At this point, there’s no reports of damage to the art.”

The pipe break — possibly due to the cold weather — apparently occurred above the fourth floor in the building’s fire sprinkler system, triggering a fire alarm that prompted state workers and visitors to leave about 1:30 p.m., Yaeger said.

Offices nearest the rotunda area in the center of the Capitol sustained damage, including a few in the governor’s fourth-floor complex.

Gilbert Gallegos, a Richardson spokesman, said there was water on the floor of the communications office when the governor’s staff was escorted back into the building briefly.

“We unplugged our computers, cleaned off our desks and left,” he said.

He and other staff members went to the governor’s Albuquerque office, where they planned to work Friday. Richardson was in Denver when the pipe burst; he was due back Thursday night.

The Legislative Finance Committee, which is holding budget hearings this week, moved its afternoon session to a nearby Capitol annex and scheduled Friday’s hearings at the State Land Office, a few blocks away.

In addition to the governor and lieutenant governor, the Capitol also houses some of the Legislature’s full-time staff.

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