Aurora museum dries out, opens after second-floor drinking fountain floods building

A leaking water fountain at the Aurora History Museum damaged some items in storage, officials say, but none beyond repair. Photo courtesy of the Aurora History Museum

AURORA | After a post-Christmas flooding incident forced the Aurora History Museum to close, museum staffers say they’re once again welcoming visitors and plan to recover fully from the deluge.

The holiday havoc exposed antique hats, shoes and textiles to water, though Aurora History Museum director Scott Williams said none of the items were damaged beyond repair.

City spokesman Michael Brannen said the city won’t know what the total cost of the accident was until contractors are hired to repair and upgrade the building.

“We have been very lucky that we have not had any total losses with any of our collections,” Williams said. “We’re just looking now to ensure that this doesn’t happen again and that we have increased water detection systems. … We may not be able to solve or prevent everything, but maybe we could have a faster response time.”

According to Williams, sensors in the exhibit and storage areas of the museum registered a spike in relative humidity on Dec. 26, which coincided with the city’s observation of Christmas. The next morning, a city maintenance worker entered the building to check on a work order and noticed water pooling near the museum’s front desk.

“He quickly then realized that something was not right and sounded the alarm and got more personnel to come in,” Williams said. “My heart just sank, and I think everyone who came through here, we all went, ‘Oh, no.’”

Museum staffers and other city workers hustled to turn off the water and assess the damage. The water had gushed from a drinking fountain on the building’s second floor, spilling into areas of the museum used for storage while sparing the museum’s exhibits.

Staffers got to work mitigating the damage in the collections area. Items that had been touched by the water were moved to another part of the museum, and a city contractor set up fans and dehumidifiers to get rid of the water that remained inside the building.

Representatives of the Colorado Cultural & Historic Resources Task Force also helped the museum evaluate its emergency plan and move items, Williams said.

Thanks to the fact that the flooding was caught when it was, he said the affected items only needed to be cleaned and in some cases receive “minor conservation treatment” from outside professionals.

“That would be to textiles and other items like footwear, shoes, things like those that are part of the historic collections that really were brought into the museum early on,” he said.

The museum was closed for several days, reopening Jan. 10. Brannen said visitors who didn’t know about the flooding would be unlikely to notice anything amiss.

“I’ve been in the museum twice this week, and if you were not aware that there were water issues here, when you walk through here, you don’t really notice it,” Brannen said. “You don’t notice it. The trolley room and the larger collections, it’s business as usual.”

Williams said the museum is considering installing sensors that could detect water sooner, so that even if flooding were to happen again, they could catch it before items were damaged.

He said the museum also hopes to turn the inconvenience into an opportunity to educate the public on conservation strategies and how damaged artifacts are restored. He also invited those interested in the museum’s mission to donate online.

“We’re a free museum. … By and large, anyone can come off the street, and walk into this museum, and we provide that free education,” he said.


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