A winter roof collapse closed Palmer’s library for months. The library just received a makeshift house and $5 million to rebuild.

PALMER — The old library in this small town founded as a New Deal farm colony closed abruptly in February. A partial collapse of the roof left the community without a home not only for thousands of books, but also for free Internet access and family traditions like story time.

The Palmer Public Library’s new temporary space opened to the public last week, just days after city officials learned of a $5 million state dollar input to pay for future rebuilding efforts.

Evan Wuollet, 13, visited the makeshift library for the first time on Thursday with his siblings and mother. His sister recognized a copy of “There’s a Moose in My Yard,” Brenda Adams’ Alaska Gardening Guide, in an upstairs section that looked more like a spacious apartment than a municipal loan center.

Wuollet was glad to have a library back, albeit a limited one, he said. “It’s sad that there aren’t as many books because a lot of them got ruined.”

The library’s temporary home is in a rented commercial building on Arctic Avenue across from a NAPA Auto Parts store. Contains only a fraction of the usual collection. Not all of the books were exactly destroyed, officials say, but only about 15% of them are here.

[Mat-Su school board will choose some members of challenged-book committee instead of using a lottery]

Long-term prospects for a permanent library, however, received a big boost after a $5 million state appropriation for library reconstruction emerged as part of a mid-May budget deal that emerged from long-stalled negotiations. time of the Alaska Legislature.

The funding came at the request of state Rep. DeLena Johnson, a Palmer Republican with an influential seat as co-chair of the House Finance Committee.

Other legislators initially refused to pay for an individual project instead of a state one, Johnson said. But he made it clear that he was not asking for a new library in the future, but money to address an emergency at a facility that attracts patrons from across the eastern Matanuska-Susitna district who access state services, Fund dividends Permanent. paperwork or court filings.

“This library is not just a book depository,” Johnson said, adding later that her own children volunteered as teenagers at a place she considered a place of retirement. “The Palmer Library has a place at the heart of the community.”

‘Our legacy project’

The roof collapse occurred one night in mid-February, just before closing time, after a series of back-to-back snowdrifts beginning in December hit Anchorage and Mat-Su. A 5 foot pile of snow and the almost 40 year old wood frame of the building did the rest.

A family of four plus three library staff managed to escape after the roof collapsed on the lower level children’s section. In the initial confusion, emergency services were told there might still be people trapped inside, even though everyone was outside.

Only part of the roof collapsed, but the entire structure was destabilized, city officials say. Built in 1985, the library sustained extensive damage: in addition to physical damage to the ceiling, a ruptured pipe flooded the floor, and weakened support beams throughout the building strained adjacent walls.

The collapse became the first in a series of major roof failures, including one the same month at the Turnagain CrossFit gym in South Anchorage that killed one person and trapped two others.

[From April: Anchorage’s reported roof failures rise to at least 16 under heavy snow and ice]

The Palmer Library, located near historic buildings such as the Colony Inn, Palmer Alehouse and the Town Hall, remains closed. Along with the influx of state funds, the city can tap into insurance payments and also hopes to secure a federal loan of more than $9 million, Palmer City Manager John Moosey said.

Friends of the Palmer Public Library Inc., the nonprofit arm of the library, has also held numerous fundraising events. The group posted an ad on Facebook last week, thanking the city’s librarians for their hard work in opening the temporary space.

The larger timeline on the library’s rebuild, as well as the shape it will take, is still unclear, Moosey said in an interview Thursday. The city council will decide next month the winning company from among those that responded to a request for proposals to “evaluate the feasibility of repairing, expanding or replacing in its entirety, and providing planning and design services for the future needs of the city.” Palmer Public Library. ”

The title of that request sums up the fluid nature of the library project, as Moosey described it: He’s not yet sure what form any construction will take, and he doesn’t know when it will start, but ideally any new library will include much-needed gathering space.

He estimates the total cost of the library project at between $16 and $18 million.

“I tell the city council that this is our legacy project,” Moosey said. “When have we done in, really the last generation, a city building? Let’s make an impact…instead of just replacing what we have, what does the next generation of libraries look like, fitting into the City of Palmer?

Coming back

The temporary library is a homey series of rooms connected by hallways and stairwells with books in each room and signs pointing the way. Officials say there are no elevators, but people who require access can be accommodated on the lower level. It took a few months to find and prepare the temporary space and then move in, Moosey said. Most of the library’s books are stored in a storage room.

City officials worked with a local family that owns the building, which until recently housed a well-known engineering firm.

Palmer is a city of about 6,000 people, but the library, like the one in Wasilla, serves several times as many. Most of the district’s nearly 110,000 residents live outside the city. Both the Palmer and Wasilla libraries receive funding from the city rather than the municipality, said Moosey, a former city manager. Probably about 80% of the sponsors of both live outside of the cities that fund them.

Last week, a customer flipped through a copy of “Tools & Shops” woodworking magazine before perusing the 1958 Alaska State Referendum framed on the wall.

Another took advantage of the free Wi-Fi on one of several computers available to the public.

Wuollet, the teenager looking up, said he is optimistic about future offerings, “maybe not the same, but hopefully a lot of new books,” despite the damage sustained from the collapse.

His mother, Lisa Wuollet, a Palmer resident, expressed her gratitude to everyone who made the temporary location work.

“It’s very nice to go through the library,” he said.

The temporary library is located at 137 E. Arctic Ave. in Palmer. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.