When Karen Clark ventures down to one of the three basements of the Logan Library, she always makes sure someone knows where she is. She fears falling down the old concrete stairs and waiting days for someone to find her.
Clark, the library director, heads below on a daily basis to check on the decades-old mechanical equipment that keeps the library running. If the green lights are flashing, that’s a good sign.
“You have to come down and make sure that everything is working, that you’re getting heating and cooling,” she said.
She makes sure no alarms are going off and crouches under air ducts to make sure there isn’t flooding. On Thursday, a small pool of water had formed next to a sump pump. She said water had seeped in from the irrigation system.
“I just have to watch; usually this water dries up, but it takes a while,” Clark said.
The flooding hasn’t been too bad since they installed the two sump pumps, but at it’s worst Clark, a 20-year Logan Library veteran, said the water has gone just above her ankles.
“You’ll notice that everything is up on pallets because the basement floods,” Clark said. “A lot.”
The majority of this particular basement is filled with cardboard boxes containing the Everton Collection. According to a 2005 Herald Journal article, it’s one of the largest genealogical collections in the country, with 82,000 pieces from different states and foreign countries.
The two other basements are completely disconnected and accessible from opposite ends of the building. They are smaller, used for storage and rarely visited.
According to Logan Mayor Craig Petersen, the library is a conglomeration of six buildings dating back to the 1930s. One section was a dance hall, then Sears Roebuck bought the whole structure. Under the direction of Mayor Newell Daines in the 1980s, the building was converted into a combined city hall and library.
In 2009, the new city hall building was built, and the library took up the entire building.
“The facility was never designed for Library use,” Petersen wrote in an email. “As a result, the space can’t be efficiently used.”
On the main floor, Clark points up to the ceiling panels where water stains are common. Most library goers probably miss the blue recycling bins that sit atop some of the bookshelves in the adult non-fiction sections, ready to catch drips of rainwater.
“We don’t even keep books up there because we’ve lost a lot of collection,” she said.
It’s worse during the winter, she said. Water freezes and clogs the drain and standing water seeps in through the ceiling.
Looking down, the children’s section has relatively new carpet, but Clark said the carpet in the adult wing is from 1986 and has never been replaced.
“We can’t even clean it because the cleaners worry about it disintegrating,” she said.
A closer look at the flooring shows multiple materials and levels. Clark stepped on a creaking panel where her office used to be before city hall vacated the building in 2009.
Logan Municipal Councilman Tom Jensen, an architect by trade who has worked on libraries, said a number of studies have found that the windows, roof and mechanical system are failing, as well as problems with the flooring and the different foundations from several old structures.
“The floor, sometimes you’re walking on concrete, sometimes you’re walking on plywood with carpet over,” Jensen said. “It’s functionally obsolete, and the systems are seriously in need of replacing.”
Another well-kept secret at the Logan Library is the completely unused second floor. Up the staircase the former offices of the mayor, finance department, city attorney and other staff sit vacant.
“Now we have a whole upstairs we can’t even use,” she said.
There is no elevator going to the second floor, no access for people with disabilities and the floors aren’t heavy-duty enough to hold stacks of books. So it remains unused.
“I could have (my office) up here, but then I’d have to run down the stairs every time somebody asks me a question,” Clark said.
Higher still, on the roof, the air conditioning fans broke last summer forcing the library to close for a week. Clark said the fans broke, and since the unit is so old, the parts aren’t made anymore so they had to be custom made.
Similarly, Clark said replacement parts for the freight elevator that connects the main basement to the main floor aren’t made anymore.
As Logan weighs the pros and cons of building a new 21st century library and community center or remodeling the current building, the choice is a no-brainer for Clark. When she hears people say the city doesn’t need a new library, she said she feels sad and disappointed.
“The new library is not going to be like this,” she said. “It’s going to have so much more availability than what we can offer right now.”
If the existing library was remodeled, Clark said she wonders what would happen during the construction process.
“Would we have to close for two years?” Clark said. “Would the remodeling be so much that we had to shut down and not have the library and wait two years while it gets fixed?”
In the process of considering the option of building a new library or remodeling the current building, Kent Craven, a registered architect with local firm Design West, wrote a memo detailing some observations about the existing building.
He concluded that the concrete post and beam structure in the main basement limits remodel goals. Mold seems to be present as well as the possibility of asbestos. The building needs new windows. Most of the mechanical systems would need to be replaced. The existing electrical and alarm system would require major replacement or an upgrade.
The memo states three factors that trigger a decision to “take a serious look at an aging facility”: health and safety deficiencies, outdated building systems and program changes.
“All three factors are considered high for the existing library,” Craven wrote.
The rule of thumb in the industry is if a remodel costs 65 percent of a new building, it’s not worth it. Craven calculated that a remodel could cost anywhere between 75 percent to 86 percent of a new building.
Even if it was remodeled, Craven wrote that the building would still be less environmentally efficient, less safe, less sustainable, less appealing, have a shorter life cycle and would be less responsive to the needs of a 21st century library.
“You could spend $7 to $9 million dollars to patch up a building that would be functionally still obsolete,” Councilman Jensen said. “Or you could spend slightly more to have a building that was functional and new and would have much lower energy cost.”
“It’s not just our library — it’s everyone’s library,” Clark said.