F-M museums prepare for the flood

Story, photos and slideshow by Shane Maland

Slideshow photos by Markus Krueger

While the Red River steadily rises, two men face challenges that weren’t discussed in their job descriptions.

Mark Ryan is the director of collections and operations at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, N.D.

On one side of the river, Mark Ryan, the director of collections and operations for the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, has the daunting task of readying the institution’s collections for a spring flood.

“We take it very seriously,” Ryan says. “In essence, they are irreplaceable.”

They are ready for action

Ryan has a disaster preparedness plan in place for both the facility as well as the collections. Letting the scale and location of the emergency dictate his next actions, Ryan must be ready for anything.

“We have off-site locations lined up and standing agreements for secure storage off-site. If it’s something as communitywide as a flood, we look at our own facility and just move things up,” says Ryan.

What to grab first

During the crest of 2009, Ryan decided to move the collection to the second floor, far from reach of potential water damage. Perhaps the biggest decision he faces is determining which objects to grab first.

The collections at the Plains Art Museum will need to be prepared for the move to the upper levels of the building.

“There is a plan in place and priorities with what objects need to be taken first,” says Ryan. ”The flood forecast of ’09 gave us the benefit of time. The plan was thought of as if we didn’t have time.”

It is a plan that the museum has had in place for nine years. “There are a lot of variables that go in to it,” says Ryan. “Importance to the museum, value, susceptibility, the type of media it is – it is a very regimented plan. For good or bad, we have experience doing this.”

Ryan has worked as the director of collections and operations for the past four years. He received his BS in Biology and BA in History from the University of has an MA in Museum Science from Texas Tech University. Ryan was first hired as museum registrar 11 years ago.

It comes with the territory

Anticipating an inevitable flood with an unpredictable crest is something that community members in the river’s path have dealt with for years. It comes with the territory. Especially when that territory is only a few blocks away from the river.

“Every place is susceptible to different sorts of emergencies and disasters,” Ryan says.

The sun shines on the Plains Art Museum as the institution prepares for another spring flood.

“Here, next to the Red, it’s something that we plan for.”

Having the right tools

The most beneficial resource Ryan and the museum’s collection have aside from the flood reports is the Fargo Flood homepage. Using the map of the floodplain and knowing the elevation of the museum allows him to constantly monitor the rise of the water and better prepare for moving the collection at a moment’s notice.

Flooding isn’t the only enemy of the museum’s collection. Of equal importance is the possibility of a sewage backup of the museum’s 100-year-old plumbing system.

“It has old drain tile around the building and is connected to the main sewer drain on First Avenue,” Ryan says. “Depending on the level of the river, we have different trigger points at which points we will do different things. Moving collections is the last resort. Moving anything in any capacity, whether it’s across the room, up the stairs or across the country, each put the pieces in peril.”

With each passing flood, Ryan faces a new balancing act. He takes those opportunities to improve the institution’s emergency plans for future floods and is well prepared to fend off the Red once again in the coming weeks.

Fighting the same fight

The distance between the two institutions is only 0.6 miles.

Across the river one mile east, the white-tented tip of the Hjemkomst Interpretive Center in Moorhead keeps a watchful eye on the rising Red.

The labyrinthine underbelly of the Hjemkomst houses artifacts vital to the heritage of Clay County and many Minnesotans.

It is Markus Krueger’s job to coordinate the volunteer efforts necessary to protect the facility – indoors and out.

“If the crest this year reaches the record crest of 2009, I’m not worried,” says Krueger while surveying the newly constructed 44 foot clay dike that surrounds the replica

Water drips from the roof of the Hopperstad church in Moorhead.

Hopperstad Church. After the showing from sandbag volunteers during the 2009 flood, Krueger has full confidence in the volunteers that will indefinitely help to protect the Hjemkomst grounds this year. “Like thousands of others, I’ve been sandbagging in all of the flood fights since 1997. I don’t see our citizens and civil servants failing our city.”

Preparing the collection

Walking the corridors linking the collection rooms beneath the Hjemkomst, it was evident that the task ahead of Krueger and the other staffers is an intimidating one. Rooms are filled with objects as large as church altars to as small and fragile as 100-year-old newspaper clippings, not to mention the multiple file cabinets filled to the brim with thousands of antique glass negatives.

“Those are probably the most valuable pieces here,” says Krueger. He along with volunteers from the community had to move every one of the delicate slides with carts. “We sounded like a bunch of tractors.”

Shelving units holding pieces of the collection are marked at the second shelf. Everything below that will have to be moved if the river hits a certain level. For now, one-inch wooden blocks have been placed under every leg of shelving units and  beneath objects too large to be moved from the ground.

Preparing for the fight

Krueger has been vigilant inside the facility, watching for leaks and preparing plans for sandbagging and collection transportation.

This year, a clay dike has replaced the sandbag dike that helped keep the river away from the Hopperstad church in 2009.

In 2009, Krueger coordinated volunteer sandbaggers to defend the church and the visitor center from the rising water when a clay dike wasn’t available right away.

“It was our flood fortress,” boasted Krueger.

Krueger has a BA in Art History from MSUM. He calls Moorhead his hometown and has worked at the Hjemkomst Center since 2007.

No matter which side of the river they are on, Krueger and Ryan have an important mission in front of them. For now, all they can do is wait and keep their galoshes  at arm’s reach.

Watch and listen as Markus Krueger recalls the 2009 flood fight:

Edited by Isabella Cody, MSUM journalism

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