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Library changes carpets, rids smell

Back in the day, the smell in the 15,000-square-foot building was described as sour milk or a sweaty sock.

The smell was traced to a meeting room at the East Library, where the carpet was replaced in 2003.

"There was a mold issue underneath that carpet in the meeting room," said John Szabo, director of Clearwater's library system. "We replaced that carpet, remedied that situation and that, for the most part, has taken care of that issue."

The smell may have gone away, but the mold problem apparently didn't. The library was closed last month to replace the rest of the building's carpet, and workers last week discovered what Szabo said was a minimal amount of mold around the emergency doors.

A persistent problem in damp Florida, mold has been known to cause or exacerbate allergies.

Arlita Hallam, who was a quality of life administrator for the city, said she doesn't remember any workers at East Library complaining of allergies. In a 1995 St. Petersburg Times article, she described the smell as sour milk.

"I think most of the problem was because the building didn't breathe a lot," she said. "People always talk about libraries smelling like books. I think that's pretty much in all of the libraries."

The library's unique odor became apparent in May 1995 when the building, which opened in 1985, got a new air conditioning system. Workers checked pipes and the janitor's closet before discovering a pungent smell emanating from the air conditioning vents.

They took air quality samples, tried different settings and filtered cleaning substances through the ducts. The smell would disappear for a few months and then return.

Then in September 2003, workers replaced the carpet in the meeting room.

"It had received such heavy use and such staining," Szabo said. "When we replaced it, we saw the mold issue and so we addressed it. That also addressed the odor problem."

Regular library patrons said Monday that they don't smell anything when they visit.

"No smell that I can remember," said Chris Strayer, who lives nearby and takes his daughter to the library. "It's been awhile since we have been over there _ maybe three months or so."

Tracy Diekhoff said she hasn't noticed the smell either.

"My kids go there every night," she said. "They live in that library. I've never heard them say anything about a smell."

Szabo said replacing the carpet is a routine procedure. Besides new carpet, workers are installing new tile in the lobby and adding more shelves. The total cost of the work is estimated at $44,000.

Szabo said the library on Drew Street circulates up to 32,000 materials a month.

"We're just growing and need additional space for our collections," he said. "We weed through the collections and take materials out that are outdated and damaged."

The library and book drop are expected to remain closed until Saturday.

Megan Scott can be reached at 445-4167 or