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MAIN LIBRARY FANS MUST WAIT A BIT LONGER

Glitches push the big reveal after an extreme makeover to October.

The grand reopening of the Main Library will not take place until next month, as workers tearing up old flooring encountered a chapter of the building's past: asbestos.

The $1 million makeover, projected to take three months, began a few weeks behind schedule in June. The building at 3745 Ninth Ave. N was supposed to reopen right about now. But a few weeks ago the toxic building material was found under old vinyl tile.

The asbestos removal now bumps the reopening to mid to late October, said library director Elaine Birkinshaw.

"The crystal ball didn't work too well," said Birkinshaw, explaining that the project also began a few weeks behind schedule because of a purchasing conflict.

On the bright side, Birkinshaw said the project will cost slightly less than the $1.2 million the city originally set aside. About $500,000 is being spent on new furniture, including new circulation and reference desks, computer terminals and sleek laptop workstations.

Another $532,000 will pay for construction and design, which includes asbestos removal. The heavy lifting is being done by Rauh-Co Construction Services of New Port Richey.

The first major renovation since the building was built in 1964 brings modern efficiency to a building that averages more than 1,000 visitors a day. The changes include the new furniture, more computers and wiring, a paint job, new carpeting, restroom renovations, lighting and public art.

"We're getting up with the times," Birkinshaw said.

The asbestos, common for buildings of that era, was there all along, said Raul Quintana, an architect with the city's engineering department. But workers were not expecting they'd come into contact with it when they removed vinyl tile to make way for carpeting.

In 1988, the library was closed for more than a year as workers removed some asbestos and sealed off the rest through a process called "encapsulation," in which asbestos fibers are sealed to prevent them from becoming airborne.

Until the workers can install new carpet, much of the renovation, including new computer terminals and furniture, cannot be put into place.

Quintana said the asbestos is not cause for concern.

"We know that the library has asbestos," he said. "Much of it was removed in the '80s. When we are done with this, we are still going to have asbestos in the library, but there is nothing in that that's a hazard."

There were other kinks in the construction. The cement flooring in the lobby had more damage than originally thought, and so workers are pouring a new concrete floor.

Birkinshaw said the delays have not translated into lost services. During the summer, library officials moved most of the Main Library collections and all of its programs to the branches, which will continue to keep extended hours. Over the summer, they also enhanced audio book availability on splibraries.org. Now, many books are iPod compatible.

Every branch library saw increased traffic over the summer. Still, some patrons say they can't wait to get back to the old digs.

Valerie Lane, 60, lives closer to the West Community branch library at 6700 Eighth Ave. N, but prefers the cavernous Main Library and said she can't wait until it opens.

"Even though it's a little bit further away," she said, "I got used to it."

Luis Perez can be reached at lperez@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2271.

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