When a pipe burst in the ceiling above the library at Devon Middle School on New Year's Day, the water damage was so bad Principal Gary Gallant expected the school would lose at least 90 per cent of the books. But it was worse.
"We lost every book," Gallant said.
"Some people said, 'Oh how many did you lose?' ... We lost them all."
Every book had to be thrown out along with the book shelves and computers and the room had to be completely gutted.
Gallant estimates the water was likely running for 40 minutes before the alarm went off. It soaked the library and ran into the administration offices below.
The school closed while initial repairs were done. Then, fears over asbestos contamination kept it closed a few extra days.
But now, a month later, boxes of books are stacked in corners and hallways around the school.
They've been donated by people in the community and other schools in the province.
They have to be sorted for age and school appropriateness but these are the books that will fill Devon's new library. A library built by a community.
Community support 'overwhelming'
Sandi MacKinnon, the president of Devon's Home and School program, called the community's involvement "overwhelming.”
"There's not many causes that can tug at your heart strings like kids and literacy and books," she said.
"That library was quite a buzzing area of the school and quite a refuge for kids and when you're involved and you see [what's been happening]. t's pretty awesome actually."
The Home and School set up a Go Fund Me online account, where more than $6,000 has been raised.
Donations have come in from people in the community and around the world, some as far away as Mexico.
Luke Peterson, who attended Devon in the late 1980s, sent a $250 donation. Along with it, he wrote: "I spent many lunch hours hiding in that library, so as to avoid being wedgied on the playground. All that reading eventually paid off."
Peterson went on to become a Rhodes Scholar and is now a journalist in Los Angeles.
"It sounds funny," he said.
Libraries "are a place where you can read to your heart's content, but they're also a refuge for kids who are more bookish or kids who are being bullied or who don't fit in at every point in the educational system. It's nice to have a space where they can just hang out."
Local businesses chip in
Local businesses have also been generous toward the library, some giving online and challenging others to do the same.
Every time a book is brought into Relish the restaurant will take $1 off the order, Skillsoft gave computers to the school and Chapters in the Regent Mall is collecting books for the library.
When the people at Chapters heard what happened at the school they got in touch with Gallant.
The store has been collecting donations since the Jan. 17 and the national office will match those donations until Jan. 31.
Pam Peddle, the general manager at Chapters Fredericton, said it's been heartwarming to see how people want to help the school
"Kids need books," she said.
"There's no getting around it. It encourages reading when there's books they want to read in the school.”
Peddle said people were coming into the store and asking how they could help even if they don’t have any connection to the school.
“It just warms our hearts quite a bit to have people come up to cash and say that,” she said.
Peddle said one customer hadn't heard what happened at Devon and when a cashier told them and asked if they would like to donate, they gave $50, saying, “Kids need books.”
"They really understood that and those kinds of donations are just fabulous that somebody feels that way about what's going on over there," she said.
Of the books the school has received and sorted, there are about 500 that will be kept and added to the new library, which likely won't be finished until mid-March.
"All of this is unsolicited," Gallant said.
"We haven't asked for a thing and yet people have been really gracious in participating."
But Gallant said at this point, the school has gotten all the book donations it can take -- and then some.
"It's a big job ahead. Once you have everything then we're like, 'What are going to do with it all?'"
Gallant said the new library will incorporate some technology and a concept called the learning commons, but that won't take away from the books.