Students celebrate library reopening at CIU

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Students at Columbia International University have gone more than a year-and-a-half without a library after theirs was severely damaged by fire in May 2010.

Luckily, the doors opened back up Tuesday.

Students were so excited about the opening of the new library they actually camped out overnight. They called it "Occupy Fleece". Fleece being the name of the library. But students say their "occupying" was not a protest, it was more of a party.

"This was great," said student Matt Densky. "I love it. I think we should do more stuff like this for everything."

Densky was one of several students who slept in sleeping bags, hammocks and tents the night before the first day of classes.

"It was kind of a joke, but talking with the librarian it was an answer to prayer because she had really been wanting to plan something big for the students to make it really special because it's been a really long time," said Occupy Fleece organizer Challie Shaver.

It was more than 20 months to be exact. An electrical fire in the library in 2010 damaged the building and thousands of books.

"It was kind of surreal," said Densky. "The whole library had burned, all the books had burned. You ask yourself the question, 'What is it going to look like now without a library?'"

Now the students have an answer.

"I'm super excited," said student Amanda Keeny. "I thought I was going to graduate without getting to see it, so this is awesome."

After suffering $2.5 million in damage, but receiving more than $1 million in improvements, the library now a has a new facade, new iPad directory stations, a coffee nook, and ground floor collaborative study space.

For library director Jo Ann Rhodes, the day was filled with excitement.

"We've worked really hard to plan the new layout to make it something that was really beneficial to students," said Rhodes.

Scars from the fire remain on at least one wall in the library. While library officials have been unable to clean off the damage, Rhodes says it's a reminder of what happened the day of the fire and where things are now.

"I think about how good God has been to us to bring us to this place," said Rhodes.

Copyright 2012 WIS. All rights reserved.