Palmer's community library, damaged in partial roof collapse, is beyond repair, officials say
Feb. 24—PALMER — The cozy Palmer library, a community hub for generations, was damaged so severely by a partial roof collapse last week that it will need to be replaced — and that's not guaranteed, local officials say.
Part of the roof over the Palmer Public Library buckled and gave way on Feb. 15. A family inside and several staff members escaped unhurt. Two days later, a roof collapse at an Anchorage gym killed one person and critically injured another. A city engineer said thick ice had accumulated on the roof.
A similar problem with ice may have factored into the Palmer collapse, given recent warming and freezing cycles, though it's still too early to say for sure, according to City Manager John Moosey. A structural engineering report is expected by next week.
Built in 1985, the library suffered broad damage, though only about a quarter of the structure was directly involved in the collapse, Moosey said. Along with the physical damage to the roof, a broken pipe flooded the floor, damage weakened supporting beams throughout the building and added pressure to all adjoining walls, he said.
A temporary location has yet to be found, and it will take several weeks to relocate library books and other items. If a new building is approved, it could take more than a year at best before the construction is done, local officials say.
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The library holds almost 61,000 volumes of books along with more than 3,100 audio books and more than 5,300 videos, according to library director Beth Skow. An eclectic array of items inside ranges from CD players and iPads to a loaner ukulele. The Alaska Room contains volumes of historical items, cemetery plot information, an agate collection and artwork that includes a number of paintings by longtime Palmer resident and noted Alaska artist Fred Machetanz.
Community members without internet access use computers inside. Teens hang out there after school. Some pick up paper Permanent Fund Dividend and tax forms; staff have been known to spend hours helping library users fill out paperwork.
The library has received an outpouring of community support including $5,000 donated during a Mat-Su Orchestra fundraiser last weekend and thousands more from other donors, according to Skow.
"They are as devastated about what has happened as I am," she said. "It's not just a place where people go and and get books. It's where people go and meet. It's where they get help finding resources ... It's a heart. I feel we are the heart of the community and we accept people of every fashion."
Nicole Johnson came to the Palmer Public Library as a child. Now she brings her own elementary-age kids in summers, when school libraries are closed.
"They always meet some classmates here, make new friends inside," Johnson said Thursday as she dropped off a library book discovered in her son's room months after it was checked out. "Big part of our summer. We'll be supporting the rebuild."
City officials expect to receive an official report on the library roof collapse from the structural engineer hired by the city, PND Engineers Inc. within the next few days. A PND Engineers representative referred any questions to the city.
A new building is "not a sure thing" at this time, Moosey said Thursday. The library is insured for $5 million, which isn't expected to cover the cost of new construction especially given higher inflation rates and increased building costs, he said.
Palmer's city council meets next Tuesday and is expected to discuss some of the next steps, and any immediate contract or funding approvals necessary.
The immediate future involves first shoring up the damaged structure to allow for the removal of the library's contents. Meanwhile, city and library officials are looking for a temporary storefront space where people can check out books and conduct other library business. It's possible they may also need to find storage space.
In the meantime, community members are stepping up to help. Donations are flowing to Friends of the Palmer Public Library Inc., a nonprofit supporting organization. Palmer Fire & Rescue crews responded to the initial collapse, and this weekend will host the library's popular Saturday morning story time session with firefighters serving as guest readers.
Anyone attending was encouraged to bring a coat to sit on, the nonprofit said in a Facebook post. The fire station floor isn't as soft as the library's.
— Daily News photographer Loren Holmes contributed.