Latter Library to close for 90 days for lead remediation, final renovations

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Milton H. Latter Memorial Library during the First Annual Children’s Book Festival in 2010. ( file photo by Sabree Hill)

The Latter Branch library will close Sunday (July 28) for the next three months for a third round of renovations that will include lead-paint remediation, officials said this week.

The library has already been through two previous rounds of repairs — first, to replace the roof, and second, to upgrade the heating-and-air systems — and officials originally planned to keep it open during a final six-month phase of renovations, said Vince Smith, the city’s director of capital projects, at a community meeting Monday evening. When it was determined that lead paint remediation would mandate that the library be closed for 30 days, however, officials decided to keep it closed for an additional two months and finish the $1.1 million project in November, rather than February, Smith said.

“Of course that lead-abatement process creates a hazardous condition that we don’t want to expose anyone to,” Smith said. “We’re sorry for the inconvenience — this is a special place. We just felt like this was the best approach and best plan to get the work done as quickly as possible so we could get the library back into the hands of you folks.”

In addition to replacing the paint, the renovations include a long list of projects around the library: new ceilings in a meeting room and the children’s book room, renovations to the restrooms on all four floors, new interior and exterior lighting, repairing windows, moving computers into their own room and installing a new front desk better suited to modern librarians’ needs, said Ray Zabala of Concordia Architects. The library staff will help select the paint to best match what the building has had historically, and particular attention will be placed on selecting light fixtures and other elements on the first floor that also match the historic nature, Zabala said.

Latter was built as a private mansion in 1907 (and donated to the city in 1948), and the building’s historic elements are presenting their own challenges in this round of renovations. Modern building regulations would demand that the grand staircase in the front and a four-floor spiral staircase in the back be enclosed. A second exit path would also need to be added both to the fourth-floor staff conference room — requiring a second staircase — and to the basement, which would require excavating under the building.

All four of those changes would simple by “infeasible,” Zabala said, so the library is seeking a waiver from the city based on the building’s historic nature.

Books are already being removed from the shelves near the walls to protect them during the lead-paint remediation, and those on free-standing shelves will be covered, said Jessica Styons, director of branch services. Most of the books at Latter can also be found at the main branch and other branches, she said, but if patrons need a particular volume, staff members can help them find it. Likewise, regular Latter patrons are encouraged to used the hold shelves at the Nix branch in Carrollton or Rosa Keller in Broadmoor for special requests, Styons said.

The twice-weekly book-sale fundraisers will continue at the carriage house, and book donations will continue at that time as well, said Friends of Latter board member Marcelle Saussy. The organization has a $40,000 fundraising goal to meet this year, she said, so the book sales must continue.

“We’re there, selling like crazy,” Saussy said. “The only problem is there’s no bathroom, so ‘go’ before you go.”

After the meeting, Kay Clemons stood in Latter’s grand foyer and asked for more detail on the plans. She visits most of the libraries in the city regularly, she said, and closing Latter to expedite the work makes sense, she said.

“It would be too cumbersome and convoluted to do the work that needs to be done and still allow people to go back and forth,” Clemons said, but suggested that library officials alter the hours at other locations to accomodate. “But we have beautiful new branches — something needs to be open on Sunday. That’s the biggest thing that’s going to be missed.”

Like Clemons, the other patrons at Tuesday’s informational meeting took news of the closure in stride. Their concerns were more focused on the ensuring that specific details — such as replacing broken tiles on the front porch — are included in the project when it reopens.

“It’s hard to lose your library, especially when it’s not just any branch — it’s Latter,” Saussy said. “But Latter is going to be gorgeous.”

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