Whittemore Library roof badly in need of repair

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Portions of the interior of the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library in Naugatuck have been damaged by a leaky roof. The library has secured a loan to pay for a roof replacement on a section of the building. - RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Jocelyn Miller, director of the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library, stood next to a book shelf covered by a plastic tarp last week and gazed at a ceiling cracked and stained from roof leaks.

Even though they couldn’t beat this weekend’s early season snow, Miller and the library’s board of trustees are racing the clock to replace about 6,100 square feet of flat roof before winter arrives in earnest.

“I’m hoping it will be done by the end of November and that the snow will hold off, any snow accumulations,” Miller said. “Please, Mother Nature, have pity on us.”

The library’s upper flat roof, made of tar and rubber, is more than 20 years old and beginning to fail, library officials said. The library was evacuated in February as new cracks appeared in the ceiling the same day that two other buildings collapsed in the borough under heavy snow loads.

“The past director saw that and, right away, said, ‘Let’s get out of here,'” said John Wiehn, the reference and programming librarian, who was working the morning of the evacuation.

The library was closed for days while the roof was shoveled, but the problems did not end after it opened again.

The ceilings on both floors of the library are splotched with stains and broken tiles from water leaking through. Discolorations have formed and spread on the ceiling of the main floor just since June, when the tiles were replaced to prepare for former Director Joan Lamb’s retirement party, Miller said.

In one place, damp insulation looks ready to fall through the ceiling, and some shelves are covered with plastic to protect the books. Moisture has caused the wood on one shelf to start rotting away. Employees often move computers or cover them with plastic bags during rainstorms, Miller said.

“Water travels in such odd ways that it’s hard to tell, after each new storm, where it’s going to be a problem,” Miller said.

Aside from possibly injuring the library’s collection, the dampness could be feeding the growth of mold in the ceiling, which could cause health problems for staff and patrons, Miller said.

The library, a private nonprofit run by a board of trustees, has increased payouts from its $4 million endowment for a $120,000 loan from Naugatuck Savings Bank to replace the roof.

The project’s lowest bidders, Silktown Roofing of Manchester, are charging close to $125,000, and the library will have to figure in interest from the loan.

The new roof will be metallic and have a slight slope, said Charley Marenghi, chairman of the library board.

It will also be better insulated, keeping heating costs down, Marenghi said. Plates of asbestos above the ceiling will be removed while the roof is being replaced.

“The radical weather we’ve had in the last couple years really forced the issue,” Marenghi said. “It’s been patched and Band-Aided over and over again, but it comes to the point where you can only patch it so much.”

After the roof is fixed, the library will still have to replace wood, carpeting and ceilings damaged by water, Miller said. The library is also continuing its perennial drive to repair and restore the rotunda at the building’s main entrance, which is also leaking, Miller said. About $56,000 is still needed for that project.

The library receives a stipend from the borough every year, an amount that remained flat this year at $577,000. Library representatives have discussed informally the possibility of funding from the borough for the roof project, but no formal requests have been made, Mayor Robert A. Mezzo said.

The borough does not own the library, which was built in 1894 on a commission from the noted philanthropist John Howard Whittemore. It was designed by McKim, Mead & White, along with Salem Elementary School and Hillside Intermediate School downtown.

“I think there’s a consensus that the library is valuable to our community, otherwise you wouldn’t see funding for it every year,” Mezzo said.

“Whether or not there would be a collective will to make a capital investment, I’m not sure. We have our own competing needs for our own assets.”

To donate, send a check to the Howard Whittemore Library at 243 Church St., Naugatuck, CT 06770, or call Miller at (203) 729-4591 with questions.