About two weeks ago, in the technology center of the John Jermain Memorial Library on Main Street, a pipe burst around 7 p.m., regular business hours, spraying the desk of technology director Eric Cohen and pooling water speckled with bits of metal on the library floor.
Fortunately for Cohen, the library is in the final stages of earning approval to restore and expand its historic facility. In an effort to begin restoration work as quickly as possible, the library has already set up shop in its temporary home on West Water Street, where Cohen sat dry as water rained down in his former office.
The staff of the John Jermain Memorial Library is no stranger to cracks in the walls, buckets collecting water from leaks in the ceiling, the dripping keeping time while a nearby English as a Second Language class commences. Last September, in the wake of Hurricane Earl, library director Catherine Creedon’s world literally came crashing down around her, as the ceiling of an alcove window on the staircase leading to the third floor rotunda began breaking into pieces around her as she climbed the stairs, already having secured plastic sheeting around book stacks and removing valuable historic documents from the library’s history room earlier that morning.
However, following a June marked by storms and rain, the impact weather and age has had on the 101-year-old library has grown at what Creedon calls an “exponential rate.”
Walking through the library earlier this week, the evidence is jarring: plaster wet and crumbling at the slightest touch on portions of all three floors of the library building. Cohen’s office is waterlogged, albeit repaired for now, small pieces of metal that gathered in a pipe and clogged it causing it to finally erupt are strewn around the room.
“The force was enough to blow across the room,” said Creedon. “And we have staff normally working in this area.”
The alcove window that almost took down Creedon while she attempted to protect art that traditionally has hung in the third floor staircase, no longer has plaster sheathing the ceiling, and water damage is visible around the window alcove, slowly spreading. A new leak has also sprung in the dumbwaiter that used to service all three floors, the rope now a dark green color and even after a July marked by little rain slightly wet to touch.
While all of those issues are critical, and evidence of a larger problem – that the library roof will not have the drainage to protect the historic building until the library can undergo its renovation – what is most troubling for library board trustee and building and grounds committee chairman Carl Peterson is the damage the water infiltration could have on the library’s Guastavino-designed brick dome.
The John Jermain Memorial Library was designed by Augustus Allen and built in 1910. The dome was constructed by the R. Guastavino Company, which also designed famed domes in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. and at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
For the first time the dome, an architectural centerpiece of the third-floor rotunda, is showing signs of water damage on both the interior and exterior brickwork on its southern side. A white efflorescence has begun to spread across the historic bricks, evidence that moisture is creeping into the dome, which Peterson noted would be extremely costly to repair.
On Wednesday, July 20 Peterson delivered this news to the JJML board of trustees at their monthly meeting. Earlier that week, Peterson and Creedon met with the library’s architects, as well as its engineers – Building Conservation Associates – to begin to discuss how the library can aid the situation while awaiting the time it can put a new roof on the library. That aspect of the project is linked to the expansion – the new, glass and masonry library will be connected to the historic library by the roof. The full project, outside of the restoration of brickwork and limestone on the exterior of the building, which was approved by the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board, still needs Suffolk County Health Department approval for a new septic system.
In the meantime, Peterson said the team is looking at several options, including shrink-wrapping the dome, purchasing heavy plastic sheeting and securing it to the dome, building a scaffold and covering the dome or moving the roof portion of the project up in the construction timeframe.
“The jury is still out on how this will play out,” he said. “The entire membrane protecting the roof is crumbling and the drain pipes and crumbling.”
On Tuesday, Peterson said galvanic erosion is largely to blame for water infiltration throughout the building, as well as the closing of two drain pipes on the roof during JJML’s 101-year history.
Galvanic erosion occurs when two dissimilar metals are placed against each other and water is introduced into the mix. Standing on the roof of JJML on Tuesday afternoon, Peterson explained that throughout the library’s history smaller pipes have been fitted into larger pipe holes during repairs, leading to less drainage on the roof, but also the galvanic erosion.
While a stop-gap measure has yet to be decided on, on Tuesday, Creedon said her main focus was gaining approvals from the Suffolk County Health Department, which will meet with the library for a formal review of their application on August 18, as well as final approval from the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees.
As Creedon prepared to leave for a meeting of library directors on the impact a proposed two-percent property tax cap could have on local libraries, a perfectly sunny day gave way to dark clouds and wind, and the rain began to pound against the roof of John Jermain Memorial Library once more.