(Photo courtesy of UK University Archives and Records Program, photographer Steve Stahlman)
Tuesday afternoon, May 15, 2001 several UK archivists, along with many others, watched helplessly and sadly as UK's oldest and most historic building became engulfed in flames and smoke. The heat from the inferno could be felt on the faces of bystanders over one hundred yards away. Flames spread swiftly across the roof and down into the area of old chapel where President James K. Patterson had instructed thousands of students in rigorous academic and high moral thinking. (History of Administration Building)
President Charles T. Wethington, Jr. and former President Otis A. Singletary, who had come from home after being told of the fire by a UK employee, both stood on the old cadet parade ground in front of the Administration Building and reflected on their years of service within the grand old building. The compelling moment reminded everyone that UK's history is both proud and fleeting, and must be preserved with great commitment and care. It is ironic that the Administration Building had never looked better than it did that spring morning in May. Work toward restoration of the exterior neared completion when the tragic fire erupted. But even before the smoke cleared, President Wethington expressed his intention to begin plans to rebuild the campus landmark.
The University Archives and Records Program staff also immediately began to provide information regarding the building and took steps to preserve the thousands of official documents which lay damaged by smoke and water in the smoldering building. The University Archives and Records Program's (UARP's) three primary missions are: preserving the University of Kentucky's history; providing a reference center for University of Kentucky information; and administering the University's Records Program. When fire devastated the University of Kentucky's Administration Building on the afternoon of May 15th, each of UARP's missions was called into play.
UARP staff, with the assistance of the Libraries's Preservation Team, supervised the disaster recovery of the administrative records in the building. After contacting a commercial recovery firm, which had representatives onsite the following morning, UARP staff entered the building with other UK personnel to identify records for salvage. The process was slowed when firefighters were forced to turn their fire hoses back on the still smoldering building several times during the day. But within seventy-two hours of the initial blaze, all salvageable documents were out of the building and on their way to a drying center in Chicago.
During the hours after the disaster began, staff from UARP's Reference Center also responded to requests for information and photographs pertaining to the history of the building. UARP staff have already begun working with architects and construction personnel to provide information crucial to the accurate historical reconstruction of the building.
Preparations for the return of the records began almost immediately following the salvage. Steps included outfitting a proper staging area, meeting with Central Administration staff to discuss handling and records retention procedures and assessing proper disposition, determining which records are historical, permanent or non-permanent. On August 28, 2001 the last of the shipments of records was returned. UK Central Administration staff are currently reviewing the records and assessing retention and disposition.