By Emily Jarrett
Nearly one year to the day the Sedalia Public Library closed due to structural problems, plaster and dust still coat every surface. Buckets, painters’ tape and tools are stacked in each room, electrical wires hang from the ceiling and piles of construction debris are swept into corners.
The library may be in rough shape ascetically but structurally things are sound, said Library Director Pam Hunter.
“It’s better, much much better than what it was, even though it may not look like it right now,” she said. “We’re getting there.”
What started as a simple $4,000 tuckpointing necessity last July has ballooned into a $1.5 million project that will see a complete renovation of the 102-year-old library’s southwest corner, extensive pier work on the corner as well as the front section of the building and brand new paint throughout.
Cracks in the walls
Last July cracks were first found in the building’s southwest corner after a construction worker hired to do some tuckpointing work found “cracks wide enough to stick a fist through,” Hunter said. After closing the entire west wing, Hunter and the Library Board approached the Sedalia City Council about paying for half of the repair costs, then estimated to be $25,000 each, a number Hunter laughs at now.
“It seemed so simple then,” she said. “But, like with any construction project, the more you dig the more things you find that need to be fixed. Originally we thought it was just the corner but then the engineers found the entire west wing was moving and the floors were pulling away from the walls.”
On Aug. 22, 2012 the library was closed “for six months” while work could be finished at a price tag of $750,000. Around the same time crews found the original peers did not extend all the way to bedrock and would have to be re-dug and the front stairs were pulling away from the wall.
“It seemed like every time we had a price, had a handle on what needed to be fixed, something else would go wrong,” Hunter said. “Especially on the original corner that had all the problems. They took the terra cotta tiles off the outside and found the brick underneath was crumbling so that had to be completely replaced.”
Weather also slowed down construction and heavy snows in February cracked some of the rafters in the roofs, though those costs were paid for by insurance. By June, however, all of the major construction work was finished.
“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, but thankfully all the piering work is finished and the big things are checked off,” Hunter said. “Right now we’ve still got to finish the southwest corner and the basement.”
Work in the basement, which houses the children’s section, was most severe. Crews had to rip up the flooring to finish pier work and then filled in the area with good dirt fill, rather than the clay that had been there previously.
“That was part of the problem because clay expands and contracts, raising the floor with it,” Hunter said. “That’s all been fixed now though and we won’t have those problems anymore.”
A $1.5 million price tag
Throughout the construction, questions of who would pay for the library’s fix were debated. The library is a city-owned building but acts independently with its own board. However with a total yearly budget of approximately $500,000 there was no way the library could finance the entire project on its own. Late last year the board approved a measure that saw $1.5 million bond added to a city bond already in progress to pay for the repairs of the Washington Avenue bridge and building a new Fire Station No. 2. To help pay the debt service payments, approximately $110,000 a year, the library asked voters to approve a .07-cent per $100 increase in assessed valuation, a measure that was overwhelmingly approved during the April 2 municipal election.
“Without that approval we would have had to look closely at cutting library services,” Hunter said. “So we were pretty relieved when the public voted to make sure the library would be able to continue operating at the level we have been.”
Hunter said the library will start seeing that extra tax money come in near the end of November and its first partial debt service payment which must be paid in August, approximately $55,000, has already been budgeted.
“We’ve also been very fortunate that State Fair Community College is allowing us to ‘rent’ the old McLaughlin Furniture Bros. building as our temporary library for a $1,” Hunter said. “That was something I and the board worried about — where we were going to locate when the library was going through construction.”
SFCC, which owns the downtown building, offered the space for the library last August and since Oct. 1 library patrons have been able to access about two-thirds of the library’s collection, as well as computers and reference materials. The move was hectic, Hunter said, and complicated by the fact that most of the library’s shelving is built-in.
“The Mid-Continent Public Library system donated portable shelving for us, which was very generous of them,” she said. “Moving back should be a little easier, we’ll be able to pack the boxes by shelves and put them right back on the original shelves, rather than having to create a whole library from scratch.
“I will tell you. I don’t want to move another library in my lifetime,” she added with a laugh.
“A brand new building ...”
During a tour of the library on Friday, Hunter pointed out where the new flooring and carpeting will be put down and the different areas that have been fixed. Construction workers uncovered an original skylight in the hallway leading to the fiction section, Hunter said, and while they won’t cut the roof to make it a true skylight, there will be frosted glass and backlighting to give patrons that impression.
“We’re also using all the construction and moving around to our advantage to repaint the entire library,” she said. “In my 12 years here it hasn’t been completely repainted so we’re getting rid of the dark green walls and painting it a lighter color. Everything will be fresh and new when we reopen.”
That reopening date is still up in the air, though Hunter hopes to be completely moved in and ready by October. Once all the construction, plastering and painting work is finished crews will come in and do a much-needed thorough cleaning on the shelves and books left behind and Hunter said there will likely be a grand re-opening celebration.
“This past year of construction has been hectic and completely turned the library upside,” she said. “But once everything is finished, it’ll be like we’re in a brand-new library. We’re just hoping the next few months go smoothly and we can get back to our building.”