RIDGE MANOR WEST — Damage from the July 6 fire at the East Hernando Branch Library will run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and likely will keep the facility closed for repairs for months, officials said this week.
Since the fire, the county has been assessing the damage, and dozens of employees of Servpro, a professional cleaning service, have been working to restore the contents.
The fire, which was reported at 2 a.m. by a security company monitoring the library, is considered suspicious by authorities. The state fire marshal is investigating.
The fire was in a small screened-in reading room at the rear of the building. When firefighters arrived, they found several wicker chairs on fire that were stacked against the back door to the main portion of the library.
One hundred books, 150 magazines and many videotapes were destroyed by the fire, officials said.
Structural damage was minimal, but water damage from two sprinkler heads inside and smoke damage was extensive, according to Cristi Charlow, the county's risk management coordinator.
Cleaning each of the library's 18,000 books, periodicals and other media is proving to be a meticulous job, Charlow explained. The workers from Servpro are wiping down the books, then using an ozone cleaning system to eliminate the lingering smoke smell.
When the process is done, she said, the books smell clean again.
Workers also have been dropping ceilings to clean light fixtures, removing baseboard and insulation, and cleaning behind smoky drywall.
As the books and furnishings are cleaned, they will be stored off-site in a climate-controlled setting until the building is ready for use again. Charlow said that it is important to keep all of the library's belongings together and that she didn't want to risk leaving them at the library.
The restoration work inside the library will be bid out in the coming weeks, with a prebid conference for interested contractors to be held at the site, Charlow said.
While predicting when the library might be ready to reopen is difficult, she said it could be three to six months, or more.
Charlow said that the county's insurance company is covering the damages, which could reach $500,000, with the Servpro bill running between $200,000 and $225,000 alone. The county's deductible is $25,000. Because funding for libraries has been an issue as the county prepares its 2013-14 budget, some people have expressed concern about whether the library fund can afford that expense.
Charlow said there is no need to worry because the county has a risk fund that will be used to pay the insurance deductible.
The 8,500-square-foot library opened in 2006 on a 7-acre tract on Windmere Road, near the intersection of State Road 50 and Interstate 75.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.