The shutdown of the Stowe Free Library after water caused major damage didn’t hit home for one resident until a few days later.
She wandered in, library books in hand, by mistake last week, said library director Cindy Weber.
“I said, ‘Can I help you?’” as the woman’s face fell; she looked around at the ripped-up carpets, bookshelves everywhere, books in various stages of dampness piled up across the library.
“It really hit home for her,” Weber said.
Preschool students at The Kids’ School on Park Street got worried when Julie Pickett, the children’s librarian and assistant director, explained she won’t be holding Story Hour at the library building for a while.
“The little kids were very concerned and they wanted to know what happened. It was kind of hard for that age to kind of grasp it, but they were very concerned,” Pickett said.
Despite the damage to the building at 90 Pond St., home to the town library and the Helen Day Art Center, employees of both organizations are finding ways to continue serving the community. The library is setting up a satellite temporary operation, and the gallery is finding a new place to hold art classes.
The building was flooded when a sprinkler burst in the attic at about 5:15 a.m. Monday, Dec. 10. Water ran for about 30 minutes before an alarm came in to the Stowe Fire Department, which was able to shut off the water. By then, the water was about 10 inches deep on the basement floor, water that had run down the walls of the second-floor art gallery and first-floor library.
The town government owns the building, and it is insured at replacement cost through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said Town Manager Charles Safford.
The full extent of damage to the building and the library’s 35,000-item collection is being analyzed now, but that process could take months, Safford said. That collection includes books, magazines, and audio and video items.
Weber has spent the last week and a half cataloging the damage.
“The adult collection is a little bit more damaged on the fiction side than we originally thought,” she said, with severe damage to up to 25 percent of books in the adult fiction section.
The Stowe Reporter archives, going back to the early 1960s, were damaged in the flood but not severely, Weber said. Document Reprocessors, a New York-based firm that restores water-damaged documents, has those archives, and will freeze them and allow them to dry, Weber said.
Safford said several built-in bookshelves at Stowe Free Library had to be removed, and will be rebuilt. The library’s new carpet, installed earlier this year for $30,000, also had to be removed, Safford said.
The jury’s out on whether it’s salvageable, although “it looks like it’s drying out well,” Safford said.
The elevator shaft in the building was flooded, too, but Safford said it seems functional at the moment, as do both of the building’s boilers.
“It’s still a work in progress to find out the extent of damage and to minimize any further damage. From there, we’ll have to figure out fully what it will take to put it back together again,” Safford said.
“This is really a mess. Every day I go in there and you see what else they’ve had to tear out, it’s right down to the bare bones,” Pickett said.
Since the Stowe Free Library functions as the community’s living room — a quiet place to read, chat or use a computer — many people have been searching for an alternative since it’s been boarded up.
Many kids use the library as a waiting area to be picked up after school, or before sports games at Stowe Elementary School, Pickett said. They also study there, and some meet with private tutors.
The building can’t be used by the public because there’s no fire-suppression system now, and the elevator’s not available.
So, the library staff is setting up temporary quarters in the Memorial Hall — the principal meeting room in the Akeley Memorial Building on Main Street.
Organizations that usually meet in Memorial Hall will move upstairs to the Town Hall Theatre.
People will be able to use four computers in Memorial Hall starting Jan. 2, and a small portion of the library’s collection will be available to the public soon.
Pickett said that collection will be minimal, and likely won’t include any children’s books, though they were mostly unharmed.
Story Hour for kids will be held three times a week at the David Gale Recreation Center, which is near the library and Stowe Elementary School, Pickett said.
Two of the library’s six public computers were badly damaged by the flooding. The remaining four will be set up at Memorial Hall by the end of the week, Weber said.
Friends of the Stowe Free Library, a nonprofit organization that raises money to help the library — it runs the huge book sale on the library porch every July — is not welcoming donations toward rebuilding the damaged collection, Weber said.
“We’ve had a lot of people on Facebook and emailing us to assist,” Weber said. “Some people had said they would voluntarily donate all their nonfiction books. The Friends are talking about getting together some kind of drive.”
Staff members don’t have a place to work right now, and are looking into working at Stowe Community Church or using some of the Stowe Area Association’s office space.
Pickett says it’s “heartwarming” to hear how many people want to help the library get back on its feet.
“It makes me happy to live in a community where people are right there to help you,” she said.