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Wall damage raises library repair costs

Replacing the entire north wall bumps up the bill. Council members decide to begin planning for a new building.

The city's library woes continue to mount.

A structural engineer has told City Council members that fixing the building's north wall, a job previously priced at $156,187, will cost an additional $121,651, which includes painting interior walls.

Harry Long, president of Long and Associates, also estimated that the city will have to spend $320,196 more to repair the library's deteriorating east wall. The total tab to repair the library: $598,034.

"It's just one of those things that we have to bite the bullet and do," council member David Tilki said. "It has to be repaired if we want to keep the building. That's the only option."

Council members agreed at a Tuesday meeting to begin planning for a new library after City Manager Bruce Haddock told them the city would probably outgrow the ailing building in a few years. According to preliminary plans, the new library will cost $2.6-million.

"With all of the structural problems with the building, we are now looking at the construction of a new library in five years," Haddock said at the meeting.

Library Director Bert Weber said shelf space is already tight and there is no room for additions like new computers. Library workers must place books at the top and bottom of the 8-foot-tall book shelves.

"That makes it difficult for some of our patrons," Weber said. "I myself can't reach the top shelves and some people can't bend to get to the bottom shelves."

City officials will begin the search for architectural firms to plan and design a new library. Determining the size and the location of the new library is the first step, Haddock said.

After the library moves out of the current building on State Street, the structure will be used to house other city offices and possibly the City Council meeting chambers, council member Ed Manny said. "It will be used as something."

But first, the city will have to tackle the mounting cost of fixing the building.

Workers have already completely removed the north wall, which was bowed.

After studying the wall, Long found that it was not structurally attached to the rest of the building, so workers were able to tear it down without endangering the building.

Originally, workers were supposed to take apart the wall brick by brick only until they reached a level that had not been weakened by bowing. Then they would rebuild the wall using new mortar and a metal reinforcement behind the wall.

But after a closer look, Long determined that the wall was in worse shape than he had thought and would have to be taken down all the way, which caused the jump in the cost of repairing the wall.

Long also determined that the east wall, made of the same material as the north wall, was deteriorating and would need the same repairs. But the cost of repairing the east wall is greater because the east wall, unlike the north wall, is structurally attached to the building. Workers would have to support the building before the east wall could be taken down.

Weber said repairs on the east wall probably will not start until after the library moves out.

Rebuilding the walls is not as simple as it sounds. Both walls are made of rare glazed bricks that are being saved and reused. Workers have to cut the glazed bricks one by one from the mortar, then catalog and clean them. Because the wall has subtle ornate designs, workers have to record the original position of each brick in order to rebuild the wall.

City officials will apply for a state grant to help defray the cost of repairs. The city already has received a $78,000 grant from the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative.

Council members chose to save the rare bricks instead of building a new wall because the building, which used to house a bank, is the last remaining structure from the city's 1920s boom period. About 10 years ago, the building was renovated for $670,000. The north and east walls were among the few portions of the original structure that remained after the renovation.

In other business at Tuesday's meeting, the council decided to continue with plans to build a BMX track at Canal Park. The city received a grant package worth more than $10,000 from the National Bicycle League, which will cover track design and construction, starting gate and controls, fliers promoting the track, computer race programs, track manuals and forms, and training.

Also at the meeting, council members supported fellow member Brian Michaels' plan to erect colorful welcome signs in the city. Michaels presented city officials with examples of 14 signs he created from computer design programs. Mayor Jeff Sandler suggested that council members pick the signs they liked best. Public input will be sought after those signs are picked.

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