WESTBROOK — The historic building that houses Walker Memorial Library needs $1.5 million in repairs, according to a consultant hired by the city.

A report from Building Envelope Consultants says the 1893 Queen Anne-style library needs repairs to the slate roofing system and bricks in the front of the building, which are loose, deteriorated and have moss growth.

The report also says a floor on the first floor tested positive for asbestos. It says there is lead-based paint on many walls, and walls and ceilings in the basement area tested positive for mold spores.

The city’s Streets and Facilities Committee will meet at 6:30 tonight at Westbrook High School to discuss the report. The committee may make a recommendation to the City Council.

Library Director Karen Valley said she is concerned that mold, asbestos and other conditions could affect the health of staff and volunteers.

“This building is in dire need of repair,” she said. “This is my mission.”

The original library, which has a modern addition that was renovated in 2007, features a gathering room with its original stained glass windows, Southern pine paneling and antique furniture. The room needs extensive restoration work.

Off the gathering room is a room housing the library’s historical reference materials. That room fluctuates in temperature.

The 12-foot pink granite steps leading to the front entrance of the library on Main Street were removed last fall and replaced with a temporary wooden staircase. The original mosaic tile in the entryway is breaking apart. Valley said she was there the day workers lifted the granite steps off the staircase.

“Not much was underneath,” she said. “The foundation was deteriorated. The brick was all crumbled, and there was nothing supporting the steps.”

The report says the slate roofing system is in poor condition and should be restored. When it rains, water seeps through. It has damaged the wooden wall paneling, windows and floors in the gathering room.

A black rubber shield was attached to prevent water from seeping in. Valley said the shield helps, but it’s not enough. When it rains hard, water pours down the walls in the kitchen and staff room on the first floor, she said.

“We put cloths along the ridges of the walls to soak up the water and catch it when it comes in,” Valley said. “When it gets wet, you can really smell the must.”

Scott Whitaker, owner of the consultant firm, said the building has a lot of life and can be repaired and restored.

“With a little time and effort, it can be brought to a watertight condition,” he said. “The elements that are damaged can be restored and brought back to the real gem that it is to the community. It’s a real historic treasure.”

The Warren Memorial Library closed its doors in May, leaving Walker Memorial library roughly 30,000 items from its collection. Now the Walker Memorial is the only library in the city.

Valley said the library’s use has increased by about 50 percent. The current adult reading area is next to the children’s books, but the library director envisions the gathering room as a place where adults can go to read.

Bob McManus of Buxton, who regularly visits the library, likes Valley’s idea.

“When the kids get going, they make some noise,” McManus said.

Another library patron, Kathy McLain of Westbrook, regularly meets with a women’s networking group in the historic section of the building. She said is a welcoming space.

“It would be worth it to preserve it,” she said.

The city recently received an $85,000 energy-efficiency block grant from the state to underwrite 85 percent of the cost to replace the library’s aging heating system.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said a $1.5 million renovation would have to be financed through a bond.

“We have to be very cognizant of the impact that it will have on future budgets,” Bryant said.

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

[email protected]