WESTBROOK – During the first stage of repair and restoration of the Walker Memorial Library, workers found cracks in the masonry had been sealed, probably in the 1960s, with what looks like material from a caulking gun available at the average hardware store.

“Now we have the money to do it right,” said Curt Sachs, an architect helping the city properly restore – and weatherproof – the 19th-century city landmark.

With that part of the project right on schedule, the city is now turning to the next step, cleaning up mold damage inside the building caused by what Sachs called “decades” of leaks and poor drainage.

The City Council gave initial approval on Monday to go ahead with a $26,000 project to clean up mold in the older portions of the library, which was built in 1894. The project represents the latest step in an ongoing renovation plan for the building, which city officials say is on schedule.

City officials estimate it will take $2.2 million to fully restore the library. The city has budgeted $675,000 so far, as part of the 2010 capital improvement bond. That money, according to City Administrator Jerre Bryant, will pay for the weatherproofing and mold abatement work.

This first stage of the project, which began in February and involves weatherproofing the outside of the building, has cost $370,000 so far, according to Anthony Triglione of Great Falls Construction of Gorham, the general contractor in charge of that project.

As with all construction projects, it is easy for unforeseen complications to emerge, but Triglione said there have been no surprises this time, and that’s a good thing.

“Everything’s going according to plan,” he said.

Sachs, principal of Portland-based Sachs Design, is helping to make sure the building is properly restored, not just repaired. Any work done on the historic structure, Sachs said, is bound by the guidelines set by the U. S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service.

“Our challenge was to get the building weathertight and do as much restoration as we could,” he said.

Library Deputy Director Marian Peterson said this week that she and the library staff are pleased to see progress on the project.

“We are very excited to have the work done,” she said.

According to a presentation by City Engineer Eric Dudley to the City Council, the work has been extensive. Repairs to the roof included waterproofing of the sub-roof, inspecting, and sometimes replacing, portions of the slate outer roof, and copper valley and ridge caps.

The work, according to the presentation, also included replacement of finials, or decorative sculptured stems mounted at key places on the roof. The new finials are made out of copper, and in some cases are hand-carved to match the original finials.

But the repairs are not confined to the roof. Workers have also dug and installed drainage systems in the ground running parallel to the foundation. While they were at it, they also washed and repaired the outer walls of the foundation, to further waterproof the building.

When finished, possibly in late summer or early fall, Dudley said, the work should make the building more watertight than it’s ever been, and soon the task will shift to eliminating mold inside the building, now that the moisture is being kept out for good.

Dudley said he was hoping to price the mold work at under $75,000, and was pleasantly surprised to find the city could do the work for $26,000.

“It’s a pretty good price,” he said.

On Monday, the council had its first reading on the matter. It voted unanimously, with Council President Brendan Rielly absent, to approve the funds. It will take a second vote at a future council meeting to make it official.

Once the mold work is complete, Dudley said, workers expect to start on the old oil-fired heating and air-handling system, which he said is badly in need of replacing. Bryant said an $85,000 energy efficiency grant would pay for about 50 percent of the cost of replacing the system, which officials hope to be able to do by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, work continues in earnest on the upgrades. Peterson said the work has been noisy, but it hasn’t scared away library patrons. The library, she said, has been extremely busy this summer, despite the work going on, which she took as a sign of how valuable the library remains to the community.

“You don’t get busy if you’re not doing good things,” she said.

Portions of the Walker Memorial Library slate roof will be
removed so that damaged underlayment can be repaired, requiring a
wall of scaffolding on the east side of the building. (Photo by
Rich Obrey)

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