RIDGE MANOR WEST — Where there had been soot and soaked carpeting and walls a year ago, there is now new flooring, fresh paint and bright white ceiling tiles.
On Tuesday, Hernando County officials showed off the soon-to-be-reopened East Hernando Branch Library. Shelves were full of books that had been cleaned by a special ozone process to rid the smell of smoke that permeated them when an arsonist set the building on fire in July last year.
Only 1,500 of the library's 18,000 books and magazines were destroyed in the fire, many as a result of water damage that occurred as sprinklers doused the flames.
Though the materials in the children's and teen sections were largely unharmed, a large plush turtle treasured by the young readers was destroyed, said Lauren Rouhana, collection development coordinator. Library officials hope to replace it soon.
Shelving near the back door, where the fire was set, was still not in place, awaiting completion of the reconstruction. Firefighters from the station that brought the blaze under control examined the work Tuesday and helped place some reading material on shelves.
The cost to repair the damage has been nearly $670,000, largely paid by the county's insurance company.
The library will reopen to the public Aug. 19, with an official grand opening set for Sept. 6.
Speakers will include Hernando County Commissioner Jim Adkins; Lynn Gruber-White, president of the Ridge Manor Property Owners Association; and library services manager Adam Brooks. During that event, "We'll be spotlighting our services,'' Brooks said. "We're just excited to finally get it reopened.''
Administrative assistant Mary Soto agreed.
"The Ridge Manor community is going to be glad to have their library back,'' Soto said.
Because repairs were going to take a significant amount of time, the county agreed to use space in the Ridge Manor Community Center for several months, making books and computers available to the public.
On July 6 last year, Joseph Brannen showed up at the library in fire gear to help fight the blaze that had broken out at the back door of the library, in a screened area where wicker chairs had been piled up. Brannen later confessed to setting the fire because he wanted to help firefighters extinguish it.
He was charged with second-degree arson.
In March, the 18-year-old accepted a plea deal for eight years in prison, agreeing to pay Travelers Insurance $590,000 and the county $25,000. Had Brannen been convicted at trial, the prison term could have been 15 years.
The outdoor reading room where the fire was set has not been replaced.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.