By Emily Jarrett
Structural concerns have forced engineers to close the Sedalia Public Library until next week.
Late last month, a 3-inch-deep crack was found along the southwest corner and west wall of the 111-year-old building, forcing the closure of the west wing, which includes the computer room, large print area, children’s area and the entire basement. During a meeting with city officials Thursday, library Director Pam Hunter said the crack has widened an extra half-inch and workers vacated the building over safety concerns.
“Yesterday was a regular holiday for the library, we closed at noon for the sstate fair, so by the time the workers found how much the wall had moved, they were the only ones in the building,” Hunter said. “We had an engineer out (Thursday evening) looking at the building to see what we needed to to and he decided we should close until next week so they can work on bracing the west wall.”
The bracing work will be part of a temporary fix for the library; a permanent solution of fixing the crumbling foundation must be started within six months, Hunter said.
“I don’t think the walls are going to fall down this week, but the engineer — and I agree — wanted to err on the side of caution,” she said.
According to Septagon Architect Jim Fischer, workers were putting in temporary bracing at the floor level and noticed the outside wall was “moving quicker than anticipated.”
“The cracks were getting bigger, so now we’re going to go put vertical braces on the southwest corner,”
Fischer said. “We’ll also have temporary concrete blocks on the lawn and diagonal braces running up the side of the building to keep the wall from pulling away. It’s a bit of a pre-temporary fix so we can go in to do the temporary fix.”
The extra problems have also complicated the issue of financing. During its pre-meeting Monday, the Sedalia City Council agreed to split the cost of the temporary fix with the library, then estimated to be around $25,000 each. The extra work will only add to that cost, Hunter said, and costs for the permanent fix, at more than $400,000, will also likely go up.
“We’re still waiting on numbers,” Hunter said. “Until the contractors talk to their sub-contractors and get everything priced on their end, we won’t know what the final price tag will be. I’m guessing it’s going to be more. There’s really no way around that.”
The library has about $51,000 in an emergency fund but, as Hunter told council Monday, depleting the entire fund would leave no money for any other emergencies for the historical building.
“Any repairs we have to make are very costly,” she said Monday.
During the meeting, Ward 4 Council member Ken Norton argued the city could pay for half of the fix, but he wanted an agreement that the library would refund the money.
“Are we going to get that money back? We can’t obligate ourselves to any permanent money going out. We’ve got obligations too,” he said.
During Thursday’s meeting with Hunter, library board president Nancy Finley, city officials and city financial advisor Carl Ramey, financing options were a major topic. The library has approximately $200,000 in its capital reserve fund and Ramey said there were two options the library could use — use the reserve fund and take out a bank loan for the rest or include the permanent fix with a bond the city is planning to use to finance the repairs for the Washington Avenue bridge, purchasing the new fire truck and building a replacement Fire Station No. 2.
“I think the bank loan idea is out. Banks rarely want to go out 15 years,” Ramey said. “The bond would be the better choice because not only would you get a better interest rate, it would be a fixed debt schedule not dissimilar to a bank loan.”
City Finance Director Pam Burlingame said the library would have a written agreement with the city to pay back the debit service funds and noted the city has done bond issues like this before with the Parks and Recreation Department and the Sewer Department, both of which have separate boards.
“We have to wait on final numbers, to see where exactly we’re at with costs,” City Administrator Gary Edwards said. “We also have to wait on the library board to see what kind of numbers they’re comfortable with.”
“I think if we put the $200,000 down and only have to pay $50,000 or less (for debt service), the board would probably be OK with that,” Hunter said. “That reserve is our rainy day fund, and it’s storming now.”
“We’ve known this was going to happen, to require a permanent fix,” Finley said. “(Hunter) went back through the old meeting minutes and they were talking about the foundation problems in the 1950s. A few years ago an engineer told us it was sound enough to last another 10 years but with the drought and heat, that’s accelerated our problem.”
“I started looking into grants we could apply for in 2009, but grant funding is almost nonexistent right now,” Hunter told the Democrat on Friday. “I know a lot of people have contacted us about a fundraiser, and while we don’t have anything set up right now, I’m sure we’ll be doing something.”
As for housekeeping issues, Hunter said all library fines would be forgiven and suggested patrons keep their books until the library reopens.
“Honestly, it’s better for us because there’s only so much room in the book drop,” she said. “I’ve also packed up the valuable collections and will be putting those in a more secure place.”
“A lot of people have asked about the library closing permanently,” Finley said. “I don’t think we have any plans of doing that. Not only is it a historic building and a Carnegie library, but it’s a functioning library used by our community every day. We have a commitment to Sedalia residents to keep it open.”
The Library Board is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 200 S. Osage Ave. For more information, call 827-3000.