John Jermain Library: Restoration Dominated by Repairs

Posted on 26 June 2009

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Next Monday, June 29, residents of the Sag Harbor School District will vote on whether to approve a close to $10 million renovation and expansion plan at the historic John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML), with almost 70 percent of the funding going towards repair of the building’s sagging façade, leaky roof and bringing the structure into compliance with the state’s building code and standards for public buildings.

According to JJML Director Catherine Creedon, of the $9,987,500 the library board is asking residents to approve for the project, roughly $5 million will be earmarked for the repair and restoration of the existing building. An additional $2.2 million will cover the installation of a new HVAC system and bring the building to code and in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act with the construction of an elevator and handicap accessible bathrooms. The remaining $2.5 million will cover the 7,000-square-foot expansion, which will nearly double the size of the existing library.

Should the referendum pass, Creedon said the 20-year bond the library would seek, with projected interest rates between 4.9 and 5.25 percent, will cost a district family living in a home valued at $750,000 between $93 and $97 per year, or about 25 cents a day.

According to Creedon, the library is at a crossroads when it comes to repairs needed at the nearly 100-year-old building, which she believes will only get worse as time goes by, eventually becoming too costly to restore.

“The façade of the building and the exterior has a couple major issues,” explained Creedon, noting the brickwork is loose in areas, and the north and northeast side of the building has sustained water damage due to prevailing winds. Additionally, the limestone cornice is damaged, Creedon said, primarily due to a cycle of freezing temperatures.

“I actually have three pieces of it in my office,” said Creedon, adding the library was forced to shroud the structure in scaffolding in November of 2006 to ensure pieces of the cornice would not fall off and injure library patrons.

Window frames, particularly on the north side, are also in dire need of repair, said Creedon, suffering water damage.

If passed, the referendum would also fund the repair of JJML’s roof, which currently leaks at such a rate that Creedon said she often spends rainy days emptying buckets of rainfall, collected in the third floor rotunda.

“The roof is flat and there is a parapet, so it acts almost like a kiddie pool – water just collects there,” said Creedon. Originally, JJML was constructed with eight roof drains with rubber flashing, but over the years, she said, the flashing has deteriorated and in some cases rotted out. Whole drainage pipes, she added, have been blocked over the years, not draining as well as they were intended to, leading to pooling of water on the library’s roof, causing leakage throughout the library.

Since the drains empty into the library’s cesspool, Creedon said, with heavy rain, the library’s system is at risk to back up. It is expected to receive an upgrade should the referendum vote pass

“I tend to be really on top of having the cesspool pumped, especially in weather like we have been having this June,” said Creedon.

Exterior issues, which are damaging the historic façade of JJML, said Creedon, translate into interior concerns, including the sagging of the skylight in the third floor rotunda. During the heavy rains the region has faced through late spring into early summer, Creedon said she watched leaking through the skylight become heavier than in years past.

“That is of great concern to me and the staff,” said Creedon. “I think we are at a point right now with the water damage issues where it needs to be addressed now — in a year or two it will be too late.”

Otherwise, the building is “remarkably solid” for its 100-year lifespan, down to some of the original furniture commissioned for the library, which was a gift from Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage in 1910.

Outside of restoration, JJML has been operating largely without complying with either state building codes, state standards for public spaces and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Once the library begins any renovation project, it will need to come under compliance, which will cost roughly $2.2 million.

The upgrade project includes installation of a sprinkler system, required for any public building in New York, as well as the replacement of an electrical system Creedon said was “grossly out of date.”

The heating system is also in dire need of replacement, said Creedon, failing to heat the third floor of the library at all and only minimally heating the first two floors of the building.

“And our lighting does not meet standards for New York State Public Libraries,” said Creedon. “It’s inefficient, and most pronounced on the ground floor.”

To comply with ADA, the referendum would cover the installation of an elevator, providing handicap patrons with access to the whole of JJML, as well as a second stairway.

If the referendum fails to gain community support, Creedon said these repairs are at such a critical point, that some will have to be made one way or another and likely through an increase in the library’s annual operating budget, which she predicted the board would be able to maintain with a slight tax increase if the referendum passes.

“If this fails, we will need to write in a significant amount of money for immediate and necessary repairs, including the purchase of a new boiler system,” she said. “It is just not safe the way it is presently hooked up.”

Despite the current state of the building, and the lack of space as a whole, Creedon said she and her staff remain resilient and upbeat, even during cold winter mornings.

“I am really struck by, in all my years of work in public libraries, how wonderfully close we all are,” she said. “For a lot of us, we are able to look at the referendum vote during days when we didn’t have heat on the third floor, and say in one or two years we will be able to address this.”

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