Newly Reopened Palestine Library Closes Again After Roof Collapse
By BETTY WATERS
PALESTINE -- The city's public library is closed again and homeless after a second catastrophe.
As heavy rain moved through the area, the northeast corner of Palestine Public Library collapsed and the north wing pulled away from the main library building Sunday afternoon, leaving a huge gap, which is now covered by a large blue tarp.
"It's horrible ... it's a mess. We will have to abandon this building," Palestine Public Library Director Carol Herrington said Wednesday. "We are looking for a place to go so we can serve our patrons. We don't know where that's going to be."
The damage is worse than the first catastrophe on July 29 when the roof caved in over the south wing, which was not expected to be repaired until November. That first catastrophe caused the library to close for three and a half weeks.
While closed after the July catastrophe, the south wing was vacated and its roof shored up, and library materials there, which housed the library's adult book collection, were moved into the north wing, which was the children and youth area.
Reconfigured, the library had reopened and operated for three weeks "scrunched" into the remainder of the structure when the second catastrophe hit Sunday, Ms. Herrington said.
The library is closed and must relocate before it can reopen.
Following the second catastrophe on Sunday, most library books and other materials are crammed into the central main library building -- the historical Alamo School built in 1912, although the situation in the north wing is too dangerous for library workers to remove books from it.
Workers were busy Wednesday bracing the north wing's sagging roof resting atop library shelves and books. Once it is safe, library workers plan to move library materials from the north wing.
The library's main structure, the former 97-year-old Alamo School, "is in great shape," while both the north wing and the south wing of a U-shaped library expansion built in 1984-85 around the school are severely damaged.
Despite the damage, Ms. Herrington said there were "two miracles" to happen -- no people were injured and loss of library materials was minimal.
Only a small group of books were wet. Some books "got smashed" when parts of the roof crushed downward onto the book shelves, but not many, and they are insured, she added.
The library director described the sagging roofs as "magical" because they are keeping the rain out of the structure.
The library is fully insured, but there is no estimate of the loss. The insurance company is treating the catastrophes as two separate events.
An engineer had been given until Sept. 30 to submit a design proposal for repairs to the south wing and when it is in hand, city officials planned to advertise for bids on a contract to make the repairs. "We were not expecting workmen until early November for the collapsed roof on the south side," Ms. Herrington said.
Now, officials also are awaiting reports not only of an engineering study of the south wing repairs but also for the north wing repairs.
It's going to be awhile before they know what the options might be in regard to either repairing both the north and south wings or rebuilding in another location, according to the library director.
"I feel in my heart that it's not going to be a repair situation," Ms. Herrington said. Although the main library structure of the old school remains strong, "obviously" the way the library addition was built around it in the mid-1980s was not workable, she added.
There are also questions to consider of whether it is worth trying to rebuild the expansion onto the old school that serves as the library's main building. It is in a residential neighborhood with narrow streets and limited parking space. "Do we move to a location where we could have more genuinely ideal circumstances for a library?" Ms. Herrington asked.
She is anxious to know what will be the decision, but said, "I couldn't speculate of whether we are talking two weeks or two months before we have enough information to make those decisions about moving forward. We have so many unanswered questions at this time."
In the meantime, the library director and staff are trying to get into a position where they can resume providing some library services to patrons as quickly as they can.
"We have been gratified by patrons' comments about how much they missed us while we were closed (after the south wing's roof collapsed), and to find out we have had a second catastrophe, they are sweet and understanding, but they want their books," Ms. Herrington said.
No decision has been made about where to temporarily relocate the library. The former Palestine Senior Activity Center at 125 Kickapoo Street, which used to house Meals on Wheels until that program moved downtown, is looking like the best place even though it is way too small, according to the library director.
Retail space that library officials have considered is "outrageously" expensive, but the city-owned senior activity center could be used by the library rent-free, she said. The old Carnegie Library building which houses other city offices already is being used for some relocated library programs.
The library director hopes a decision can be made within two to three weeks about where the library will temporarily relocate. "We are here to serve and we want to do it again as fast as we can," Ms. Herrington said.
An organization called Friends of the Palestine Public Library will sponsor a breakfast 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturday at Applebee's to raise funds to help pay for moving costs for the library to a new location. Pancakes, juice, milk, coffee and eggs will be served.
The library director and others are taking turns spending the night in the library until the north wing's roof can be braced enough for library staff to safely remove library materials.
The reason is that there are two pumps on the north wing's roof and two pumps on the south wing's roof. As rain water collects on the roof, someone has to turn on the pumps when the water reaches a certain level, pump the water off and then turn off the pumps to keep the motors from burning up.
Ms. Herrington was working on a project in the library Sunday afternoon and a library employee who is a college was doing home work. The library director was also monitoring the south wing's pumps and went to the second floor to look down when she noticed there appeared to be more water than usual. She came downstairs to call the city police dispatcher to ask the fire department to bring over a supplemental pump because the pumps were not keeping up with the water load.
When she walked out of the room where she had placed the call, the employee was screaming that the roof on the north side was caving in. The library director called the dispatcher back. When police and other emergency personnel arrived, "they told us to get out of the building," Ms. Herrington said.