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Burst water pipe floods Rockingham Free Public Library

Local history collection bears brunt of damage

BELLOWS FALLS—The Rockingham Free Public Library on Westminster Street suffered a flood on Sunday night that caused major damage to several sections of the building.

Although a final report is pending, Public Services Librarian Wendy O’Connell said Tuesday that the flood was likely caused by a ruptured internal water pipe in the original section of the library building.

The library is insured under the town of Rockingham’s policy, she said, but a complete estimate of the damage is still being compiled.

The RFPL, built in 1909, is one of four library buildings in Vermont built with funds from the philanthropist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. The library had additions built on in 1929 and 1968. Library officials have long sought renovations to the 1909 section of the building, but there hasn’t been enough money to do the work.

“It’s an old building, with old pipes and old electrical wires and fixtures,” O’Connell said. “With pipes and wires that are 100 years old, things like this are going to happen sooner or later. It really highlights how much work needs to happen to upgrade our library.”

The flood was discovered when staff arrived at the library Monday morning, she said.

According to O’Connell, the worst damage was to the Local History Room, a sequestered area in the middle of the building housing the historical collection —  including local Rockingham and Vermont historical books, genealogy books and research material, framed prints, and historic photographs.

“The entire collection was damaged,” O’Connell said. “Pretty much everything got soaked.”

Water damage extended to the adjacent reading room, as well as downstairs to the youth department and the adjacent basement area.

The library was closed Monday while clean-up crews sopped up water and a preservation team arrived to rescue the waterlogged historical collection.

According to O’Connell, Munters Corp., a dehumidifying company from the Boston area, was called and arrived in less than three hours. They boxed up the materials and freeze-dried them prior to beginning the restoration process.

O’Connell said that the process is expected to take many weeks to complete. A local restoration company, Works on Paper in Bellows Falls, is also assisting with the effort.

The Local History Room itself — the ceiling, walls, floor, and bookcases — were also damaged and will require complete restoration, O’Connell said.

The library reopened on Tuesday and will remain open while repairs are made.

“It’s been a total zoo here,” O’Connell said. “Half the library is off limits for now, and the dehumidfiers are going full blast.”

The damage to the RFPL’s history collection “has been a real heartbreak,” said O’Connell. Genealogists, historians, and authors from around New England have used the collection for research.

“It is the heart of our library,” she added. “I hope we can save it.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #80 (Wednesday, December 15, 2010).

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