Items went missing in aftermath of last year’s flood

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published March 25, 2015

 Andy McGillivray, of Madison Heights, helps unpack items such as an election sign from his dad’s City Council days. His dad, Gary McGillivray, is now an Oakland County commissioner.

Andy McGillivray, of Madison Heights, helps unpack items such as an election sign from his dad’s City Council days. His dad, Gary McGillivray, is now an Oakland County commissioner.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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MADISON HEIGHTS — The flood of Aug. 11, 2014, continues to take its toll, with the recent discovery by officials in Madison Heights that a number of items in the Heritage Rooms — a history museum for the city and local school districts — had been thrown out during the cleanup effort.


The Heritage Rooms are currently located in the lower level of Madison Heights City Hall, on 13 Mile near John R. At the time of the flood, they were in the east wing, near the library. The lower level took on roughly a foot of water; the courthouse basement was also flooded. A half-dozen boxes of material from the Heritage Rooms were immediately discarded, but city officials were able to relocate the majority of the material to another room in the lower level that was removed from the water.


As one of the driving forces behind the Heritage Rooms, Madison Heights City Councilwoman Margene Scott was there for three days, trying to salvage whatever she could. Once the boxes containing the yearbooks, graduating class collages and other items were stashed away in a new room, she and her husband, Jack, left on a weeklong trip. They assumed everything was OK.


“We thought no news was good news,” Scott said.


Fast-forward from August 2014 to March 2015, and Scott found herself hit with bad news: A number of items they had thought were left in storage had been thrown out by the cleanup company. It’s not clear when or how it happened, but the boxes containing the papers must’ve been deemed contaminated and disposed with the rest, despite the fact they had been in sealed filing cabinets high above the polluted water.


Perhaps even a remote proximity to the sewage-laden water was enough to deem it unsalvageable. The city is still looking into what happened, compiling a list of items lost. It’s a huge setback for the Heritage Rooms, where the yearbooks were so popular that a dedicated yearbook room was in the planning stages.


The collection also represented a lot of hard work by dedicated volunteers, such as Historical Commission members Mary Merkel and Cheryl Suiter. Merkel had spent two years going through newspapers and albums from the Madison district, clipping out articles with a pen-knife. And Suiter had taken all of those clippings and categorized them, alphabetically, in seven different scrapbooks, with plastic pages to ensure preservation. They also had records of every individual in Madison Heights who had gone into service during World War II.


“I was devastated when I heard the news,” Scott said. “I lost it right away. I couldn’t even muster enough strength to get to the council meeting that night, March 9, because I found out at 4 p.m. When (Madison Heights City Manager) Ben Myers told me, I choked up. The thing I felt the worst about was the loss of all the people’s possessions we had taken in and were entrusted to protect and display. I know people went through this all over the city during the flood, so I hope they understand it was really out of our control.”


Joe Vitale, director of the Madison Heights Department of Public Services, said it was a tricky situation since the raw sewage meant the lower level of City Hall had to be cleaned up quickly.


“Once that water got into both buildings (City Hall and 43rd District Court), there was about a 72-hour window to mitigate every content associated with those spaces — and by ‘mitigate,’ I mean getting it out of the building, and deciding how it would be cleaned and stored,” Vitale said. “It’s unfortunate what happened with the Heritage Room stuff, and I’m heartbroken. But I look at it from the big picture, and think of the thousands of residents who also lost things near and dear to them. It was a 100-year storm that caused this. We’re not immune to that, either.”


Now the city is trying to restore as much of the collection as possible, focusing on the yearbooks in particular. Anyone who has a yearbook from Madison High, Lamphere High or Bishop Foley Catholic High can help out. And the person does not need to give up their copy of the book. The Historical Commission can scan the contents and create a digital copy for future generations to enjoy.


Anyone with one of these yearbooks is asked to contact Margene Scott by sending an email to marscott@comcast.net. Alternatively, they can call the Madison Heights Public Library and leave a message with the library director, Roslyn Yerman, at (248) 837-2852, or email her at ryerman@madison-hgts.lib.mi.us.

 

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