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Park Rapids City Council takes heat for library maintenance issues

A library board member complained that neglect of the building could threaten the health of staff, patrons and the library collection.

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The Park Rapids Area Library has experienced heating and plumbing issues recently.
Park Rapids Enterprise file photo

Library board member Sally Wizik Wills addressed the Park Rapids City Council during their March 22 meeting’s public comment segment, reading a prepared letter about mechanical issues at the public library.

The city owns the library building, she noted, and is responsible for its upkeep.

Wills acknowledged that the city council requested funding from the Kitchigami Regional Library System to repair the library’s HVAC system. She reported the library is waiting on parts for the system and daytime temperatures in the building have ranged from 78 to 80 degrees. “Fans are constantly being run.”

On March 15, she said, a leak was discovered in the ceiling of the small basement meeting room, resulting in wet carpets and standing water in the boiler room. Upon investigation, a part-time city maintenance worker found a valve marked with a taped-on note saying it was to be left open in the winter, but it was closed.

“Water froze; the pipe broke and we had water in the basement,” said Wills. “By the next day there was a musty odor in the library. The library board is concerned about the effect of mold and mildew on the health of library patrons and staff, as well as the library collection.”

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Wills said parts of the library couldn’t be used, and carpets had to be professionally cleaned. Other cleaning and replacement of ceiling tiles is still needed, she said.

Further, Wills reported that a faucet in the office couldn’t be fully shut off on March 18, and the maintenance worker said the parts were completely worn out and couldn’t be replaced. As a result, the building’s hot water had to be turned off until the faucets were replaced.

Wills concluded by urging the city to increase oversight of the library building. “We want a maintenance plan for the library to be developed and followed,” she said. “We want an end to notes taped on pipes. We want plumbing and other systems in the building to be periodically inspected and maintained.

“We want a safe and comfortable building to be fully available to the public and for our staff to have a safe environment in which to work. We want the library collection to be safeguarded from degradation caused by neglect.”

Council response

Council member Erika Randall verified with Public works superintendent Scott Burlingame that the faucet has already been replaced, and that the valve was an unfortunate accident, not caused by deteriorating conditions but by a maintenance oversight.

Burlingame said the flooding was caused by a frozen scupper on the library roof, combined with overflow from a stormwater line in the alley that freezes every year. He said he didn’t know about the note on the valve, which apparently dated from when the building was a bank.

Mayor Ryan Leckner said he spoke with branch manager Jodi Schultz, and she told him she thought the library’s maintenance issues were being handled properly.

Regarding daytime heat, it was noted that it’s been an ongoing issue and will be resolved as soon as the contractor receives a part that has been ordered.

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Based on this information, Randall said, “I do disagree with referring to the city as neglecting the building.”

Leckner suggested that better communication is needed.

Burlingame said the building maintenance worker, who works three days a week, responds to issues as fast as he can.

Regarding whether a maintenance plan is called for, Randall pointed out that the library is a staffed facility and that the city relies on staff to report building maintenance issues.

City Administrator Angel Weasner said the city does have a checklist of regular maintenance priorities.

Maria Pretzer, also with the library board, clarified that the basement flood was the second water issue that had occurred in that room.

“This is not us complaining,” she said. “Just wanting to be sure that the council was aware of what’s going on in the building and expressing concern about some of those things.”

Council member Tom Conway said staff working in the building will probably spot maintenance issues sooner than a city employee who does monthly checks.

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“Sometimes you feel like it’s reactive and it would be nice to be able to be proactive,” Conway said. Noting no one knew about the valve that caused the flood, he added, “You can only manage those things you know about.”

Randall and Conway suggested leaving it up to staff to plan the city’s care of the library building. Burlingame said that has already been done.

“If Jodi or the library board has any specific recommendations about what a maintenance plan looks like that’s not being done, we’re always open to hearing them,” said Randall.

MORE RELATED COVERAGE:
Department heads gave a report on the past year or two at a city council workshop on Jan. 24.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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