One project down, plenty to go at Whittemore

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The sun shines through the skylight in the rotunda at the Whittemore Library in Naugatuck. The skylight was recently refurbished as part of ongoing renovations to the rotunda and the library. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The sun shone bright through the through the stained glass skylight in the rotunda and into the entryway of the Whittemore Library Monday afternoon.

“It’s so bright in here now, you don’t have to turn on the lights,” Library Director Jocelyn Miller said.

Restoration work on the skylight wrapped up earlier in the summer. To complete the work, the glass had to be removed, shipped up to Massachusetts, where it was cleaned, and then reinstalled, Miller explained.

This was the first time since 1894 that this has been cleaned, she said. Most importantly, the rotunda is now waterproof.

Though the cracks in the floor of the rotunda remain, they do not pose any structural threat to the library, and are not the main concern.

“Water is the biggest challenge in this building,” Miller said.

The library received a grant of $103,333 from the state to repair the rotunda. This money was one third of the original estimated cost of $310,000.

However, to receive this money, the library has to make the building more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means redoing one of the bathrooms to make it more handicapped accessible, adding a ramp to the stage in the meeting room, and widening the entryway to the elevator a few inches.

Of these three ongoing projects, the elevator entryway has proven to be the most problematic. Behind the wall was not just studs and sheetrock as the library hoped. Rather, the wall consists of concrete blocks and an I-beam. This has added extra work and a higher price tag to the project.

These additional projects are only some of the problems that the library has faced and continue to persist.

The building began to develop leaks in the roof. The problem was so bad that the staff had to cover the bookshelves with plastic and place bins around the library to catch the falling water.

Many of the ceiling tiles were stained or broken during rain storms. One of the tiles in the children’s library section collapsed, leaving a hole near the window.

To mitigate this problem, the library took out a six-year, $120,000 loan from Naugatuck Savings Bank and replaced the roof.

Once the roof was replaced, the skylight no longer sat correctly and cost an extra $5,000 to fix it.

The library also had to pay another $5,000 to replace the insulation around the air handlers and over $1,800 for the building permit to do all this work.

Replacing the remaining damaged insulation and ceiling tiles will cost the library $3,800, Miller said.

An ongoing project to widen the entryway to the elevator at the Whittemore Library in Naugatuck, to bring it in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, has run into a snag as concrete blocks and an I-beam were behind the wall, rather than the studs and sheetrock library officials had hoped. –LUKE MARSHALL

“The [Library Board] thinks it will be better to replace all of the ceiling tiles, but we don’t have the money,” Miller said.

The repairs to the roof that will prevent a majority of the leaks, once totaled, will cost over $15,000 more than the library took out for the loan, according to Miller.

The library is concerned with how it will pay for all of these necessary repairs.

“We don’t have enough money to protect this building,” Miller said. “We’re relying on the kindness of patrons.”

The next large problem the library has to face is the deteriorating masonry. Miller pointed out the stains on the blinds in the reading room and explained that the joints above the windows need to be repointed.

“This is the other room that is in tact from the original building. It is the most crucial part to protect,” Miller said.

She explained that, if the other parts of the library are ruined, it would be a costly fix. However, if the original woodwork and structure of the reading room is destroyed, the library will never be able to afford to restore it to the way it was.

Already she has had some patrons complain that the room is beginning to smell of mildew.

“The biggest problem is moisture coming into this building and the lack of funds to prevent that from happening,” Miller said.

Miller said that the estimated cost of the masonry project is $52,770.

To help offset the cost of this, and other capital projects, the library requested $100,000 in the town’s budget. After cuts to the budget were made, however, the library’s request was not granted.

“We would have been very grateful to receive support from the borough. They had lots of other departments requesting money, though, and they’re stretched very thin, so other needs were put first,” Miller said.

The town pays 80 percent of the library’s operating budget, but does not pay anything towards the upkeep of the building since the library is not owned by the town.

The library had no budget for new books for the past three years. This year it has a total of $16,000 for books, newspapers, and magazines.

“We can’t even buy all the best sellers with that,” Miller said.

She explained that, while the capital projects are going to take a lot of money, the library will gladly accept any individual donation towards any aspect of the library.

“We need to find sources of donations and grants,” Miller said. “Individual donations are always more than welcome.”