John Jermain Memorial Library Contends With Earl

Posted on 10 September 2010

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On Friday afternoon, as Sag Harbor residents hustled to Schiavoni’s for extra bread and milk and the first bands of Hurricane Earl swept rain across the East End, Catherine Creedon was worried about more than whether the contents of her refrigerator would see her through the big storm that never was.

As the director of Sag Harbor’s historic John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML), Creedon spent the morning tactically placing trash bins under leaks spouting from the library’s third floor ceiling lay light, securing tight plastic around stacks of books in yet another area of the library prone to leakage, and carefully clearing out the library’s history room to protect the historic documents that have been placed in her care.

Adjusting two recycling bins used to collect water seeping from a window on the stairs leading to the third floor, Creedon remarked to JJML program director Martha Potter that as a precaution, the two should start removing the library’s latest art installation by Christine Chew Smith. They passed under the window, the precious artwork in their hands, and at 1:30 p.m. Creedon’s world literally came crashing down around her.

The ceiling of the alcove window dropped down, breaking into pieces as it hit the floor, just moments after Creedon and Potter had passed underneath it.

“We have had severe leaking there,” said Creedon. “There was so much water in there, the plaster was like mud.”

Creedon closed the third floor of the library immediately on — despite the inclement weather — one of the busiest days the library has had in memory.

“It was very busy that day,” she said. “We were lucky it was us and not one of the patrons.”

On Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the library’s contractor, Sandpebble Builders, inspected the site, Creedon re-opened the third floor again, hanging Smith’s work back on the walls. The artist will host an opening at the library in celebration of HarborFest weekend, on Saturday, September 11 from 2 to 4 p.m.

According to Sandpebble, what has fallen down from that ceiling is all that will fall down due to the water damage sustained over the last 100 years, but water infiltration will remain an issue there, and in other spaces of the library as the aging structure awaits a proposed renovation, restoration and addition, which is currently being reviewed by the Sag Harbor Planning Board.

“We will continue to monitor the area through the colder winter months, which are a concern,” said Creedon. “If it poses a risk, we will close that space. Because it is on the steps to the third floor, it is difficult to protect the area with scaffolding.”

The impending arrival of Hurricane Earl also concerned Creedon as she watched construction crews led by historic preservationists removed a section of the limestone cornice just days before Earl was set to arrive, leaving a portion of the building exposed to the elements, its only reprieve a sheet of plastic.

The cornice’s removal was to ascertain the library’s structural integrity and what level of restorative work will be needed if and when the village approves the library project.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” she said on Tuesday, noting the cornice piece was being reinstalled Tuesday afternoon, with the scaffolding and cribbing hugging the Jefferson Street side of the library expected to be removed by the end of the week.

“The most interesting part of it is how absolutely gorgeous the construction of the building is,” Creedon remarked.

While she is still awaiting a formal report, she said the top of the building – the cymatium, which is held in place by weight, friction and mortar – is in much better shape than she ever imagined, making the restoration aspect of the building project an easier process.

Some of the restoration work, library trustees and Creedon hope, will be completed before the expansion now that the village has approved the library’s use of a temporary space on West Water Street – a space they hope to move into late this fall.

On Tuesday, Creedon said she is working on an application to gain Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (ARB) permission to re-point the clean the library’s exterior masonry.

Creedon said the library has already done a chemical analysis of the mortar between the bricks to ascertain their original color and is curious what the ARB would prefer – a library with the original white mortar, made with local sand, or the limestone color the mortar has aged into – the color residents have enjoyed for decades.

“What level do we restore it to,” asked Creedon excitedly, as if she was on her way to solving an intellectual mystery. “Will they want that original white or does it make more sense if we consider the building as a living document, and therefore keep the limestone color we all know and love?”

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