Archive for Saturday, February 21, 1998

FIRE CLOSES BUDIG HALL

February 21, 1998

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A fire Friday morning in Kansas University's Budig Hall caused minor damage but shut the building down for the day.

It must have sounded like a sick April Fool's Day joke.

Only it was Feb. 20, and there was, in fact, a fire in Budig Hall -- the technological marvel of a building that replaced the fire-ravaged structure once known as Hoch Auditorium.

The small fire started in a basement electrical panel about 10:30 a.m. Friday, but was squelched shortly after that by sprinklers and by firefighters with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical.

``The sprinkler system knocked down most of the fire,'' KU police Sgt. Chris Keary said.

Smoke filled the hallways and several hundred students were evacuated.

``I walked by and there was smoke all over the place,'' said KU freshman Mike Kvasnicka, who was sitting down to take a sociology test in the building when the fire alarms sounded.

The ``all-clear'' signal was given about 11:10 a.m., although students were not allowed to re-enter the building, which lacked power and was closed for the day.

Officials said the fire did not extend beyond the basement electrical room at the southwest corner of the building.

KU Facilities and Operations crews worked into the afternoon pumping water from the room and cleaning up the scene. Water damage was contained almost entirely to the electrical room. There was no damage to a nearby computer lab.

The fire started in a device called a power inverter, which supplies power to emergency light and fire exit signs, officials said. The manufacturer will be in Lawrence this weekend to investigate the cause of the blaze.

The building is expected to be reopened and fully functioning by Monday. No damage estimate was available Friday.

Budig Hall, which contains the new Hoch Auditoria, is located on the site of the original Hoch Auditorium, which was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire in June 1991. A multimillion-dollar reconstruction effort was capped in October, when former chancellor and current American League President Gene Budig returned to campus for a dedication ceremony.

``At least this one had sprinklers and alarms -- a whole bunch of stuff that limited the damage,'' Keary said.

Students who found the ``building closed'' sign were less concerned with the fiery history of the structure.

Kvasnicka, who returned for a 12:30 p.m. class, and other students cheered the cancellation of their Friday classes.

``This just made my day,'' said Chad Badowski, KU junior.

One student called out, ``Let's go to (Louise's) West!''

-- Matt Gowen's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail address is gowen@ljworld.com.

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