Got a spare million bucks? The Morristown & Township library needs shoring up

The Morristown & Township Library, which has seen more than its share of calamities, has a new one: Its stonework is falling off.

“Eventually, those stones all will come off” if nothing is done, said Nancy Bangiola, the library board president, at Tuesday’s Morristown Council meeting.

The Morristown & Township Library, Dec. 10, 2013. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The Morristown & Township Library has another big problem. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Library officials are asking the governments of Morristown and Morris Township, which share ownership of the South Street facility in Morristown, for slightly more than $1 million to rebuild exterior walls of the central portion of the library.

It’s the latest in a long list of crises for the star-struck library. For nearly a week this winter it was closed after a sprinkler head burst, dousing three floors. A portion of the building was shuttered for nearly two years  following a powerful explosion in 2010. Another blast shut the place for six weeks in 1994.

Blame shoddy construction and Mother Nature this time, consulting architect Robert Russell told the council.

When the central part of the library was built in 1987, flashing atop the walls did not extend far enough to channel water off the building. So it seeps between the inner wall and the stonework. When the water freezes, it expands, dislodging the limestone and granite stones on the exterior, Robert said.

“A vertical pothole” is how one library board member described it.

Morristown Councilman Michael Elms, far left, huddles with Nancy Bangiola, library board president, who is seated beside library Director Maria Norton. Photo by Berit Ollestad

Morristown Councilman Michael Elms, far left, huddles with Nancy Bangiola, library board president, who is seated beside library Director Maria Norton. Photo by Berit Ollestad

Too much time has passed to sue the contractors, said Nancy Bangiola, who is a lawyer.

Affected areas face the front of the library on South Street and the rear parking lot. Scaffolding shields the public from the hazard of falling stones, Robert Russell said.

Before asking taxpayers to underwrite repairs, the library should solicit private “angel” contributors, said Councilwoman Alison Deeb.  Nancy said she thought it would be hard to interest anyone in funding such basic work.

Morris Township already has set aside $250,000 toward its half of the repairs, Committeeman Peter Mancuso said at the March 19, 2014, Township Committee meeting.

But Morristown Council President Rebecca Feldman said it’s unclear whether Morristown is responsible for half the costs; a complex formula governs how the municipalities fund the library’s annual operating budget. Discussions among the town administration, Morris Township and the library are needed, she said.

Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, who anticipates introducing his 2014 municipal budget next month, said he does not expect the library renovations to impact taxpayers. The work could be carried as short-term capital debt, according to town Administrator Michael Rogers.

The library, which just spent $70,000 on sewer work, according to Robert Russell, earmarks some of its annual budget for capital repairs. But the stonework project is too large for the library to tackle on its own, Nancy Bangiola said.

“The Town and Township own the building. We’re really trustees for them,” she said.

The stonework problem was discovered during the course of other renovations in recent months, Robert Russell said. Grant money was procured for maintenance to the original 1917 wing–the section most heavily damaged by the last explosion–but the 1987 wing is not old enough to qualify for historic preservation grants, he said.

Projected renovation costs are based on estimates from two stone masons, the architect said. The work should take about a year to complete, including a break for winter weather. The library will remain open to patrons throughout the renovations, he said.

Architect Robert Russell describes library defect to Morristown council. Photo by Berit Ollestad

Architect Robert Russell describes library defect to Morristown council. Photo by Berit Ollestad

 



Comments

  1. Margret Brady says:

    I sense that there is more to all this than meets the eye. Shoddy workmanship? Improper flashing? Was anyone overseeing any of this work at the time?

  2. Why not tear down the old one and build something that resembles a library?

  3. Margret Brady says:

    The old building is fine and continues to serve the Town. It is the newer construction that was to quote the person giving the report to the council, “shoddy”. I guess the old saying that they don’t build things the way they used to, applies here.

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