The Decatur Public Library will be closed for up to two months while a new central air system is installed.
The facility on Lee Street Northeast is expected to be closed from Nov. 26 to late January, affecting thousands of patrons, library director Sandy McCandless said. A quarter-million people visited the library last year, and more used its electronic resources from home computers, she said.
“People come in to conduct online job searches and check their email every day,” McCandless said. “It kills me. I hate it, hate it, hate it. But closing is the only way we can get the work done as quickly as possible and keep the costs down for the city.”
Samantha Jenkins of Decatur and her friends stop by the library each month to pick up books and videotapes.
“It will be an inconvenience, but hopefully it will be a good system — and safer once it’s up and running again,” she said.
The HVAC system is a building original nearly 40 years old. It poses a hazard to patrons and staff, McCandless said.
“After the tornadoes in April 2011, when the power came back on, it began spewing toxic fumes, and we had to evacuate the building,” she said. “Right now, we can only use heat or cold, not both at the same time. We can’t make it like it is any longer.”
Bids for the project — initially estimated to cost around $317,000 — came in 50 percent over budget this month, Council President Gary Hammon said. Officials have been working with contractors and consultant Cornerstone EngineeringGroup of Decatur to get the estimates down, Hammon said. More than 60 tons of equipment will be installed at the 20,000-square-foot, two-story building.
“We looked at the bids and saw that labor was our second-highest cost because it was based on doing the work around the library’s hours,” Hammon said. “We think we can get this knocked out in six to eight weeks if the contractors have 24-hour access to the building.”
McCandless said she is pushing for work to wrap up by early January so the library can reopen by Jan. 22.
“We get really busy after New Year’s because students are back in school, and that’s a big paper time,” she said. “We have a lot of people that come in for reference and research.”
She urges patrons to come to the library to check out books and “take care of whatever business they need to” before Nov. 26. As many as 50 books can be checked out and no late fees will be assessed during the closure, McCandless said.
During the down time, the 22-person library staff plans to work on projects such as learning basic Spanish phrases to assist Spanish speakers, write grants, plan programs and catalogue collections.
“We have so many things to catch up on, and we plan to do as much as we can in our little space until we have to vacate the entire building,” McCandless said.
The new HVAC system will be state of the art, high efficiency and similar to those used in milder climates in Asian countries, Haynes Smith of Cornerstone Engineering said. The units will be placed in the basement after asbestos is removed and around the outside of the building.
The library roof is not strong enough to hold the new equipment, Smith said.
The city will use money from its $800,000 Heritage Trust Fund to cover the work, Hammon said. The fund contains annual proceeds from the state’s offshore oil industry that can only be used for public building maintenance.
The council plans to award the bid at its Nov. 19 meeting. It approved a $346,873 annual appropriation for the library this month — bringing it to its lowest level in more than a decade.
The library also receives funding from Morgan County, the state and federal government and operates on a $900,000 annual budget.
Things you should know about the upcoming temporary closure of the Decatur Public Library:
As many as 50 books can be checked out before the Nov. 24 closure date.
No late fees will be assessed during closure.
Items can be returned in the outdoor drop boxes, which will be checked regularly.
Donated books will not be accepted during the closure.
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