City Council approves $2.3 million for Burton Barr

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton at a Sept 20, 2017 city council meeting. (Anya Magnuson/DD)

The Phoenix City Council approved $2.3 million for repairs to the shuttered Burton Barr Central Library, which officials hope to reopen next summer.

Burton Barr closed in mid-July after sustaining serious water damage from a pipe that burst during a monsoon storm.

The $2.3 million unanimously approved at the council’s Wednesday meeting is just the first stage of funding needed, according to Phoenix Public Library public relations officer Lee Franklin.

The money will not cover restoration or preparation to reopen the main downtown library. It also won’t cover the replacement of 8,000 items lost to water damage or repairs to the building’s pipes or sprinkler system.

This initial funding covers only the “emergency response” directly after the event, Franklin said. It includes the removal of wet items, tearing out drywall and wood, and ensuring that no more damage would continue.

“Once that is complete, we have to go in and estimate how we are going to put this back together,” said Franklin.

According to Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher, the funding comes from the library budget, however the city is working with the library’s insurance provider to determine how much of it can be reimbursed.

Of the $2.3 million, almost three quarters of the money goes toward water extraction, drying, demolition and disposal services.

The rest is split among emergency repair services, inspections, security, traffic barriers and other miscellaneous costs.

The library still has a long road ahead, including more requests for funding from city council to cover building repairs, relocation and replacement of lost materials.

Burton Barr lost about 8,000 of its 500,000 items to water damage, and most of those losses were concentrated in the general reference collection. Approximately 1,000 teen fiction books were also destroyed, said Collection Development Coordinator Kathleen Sullivan.

However, the library was already discussing updating the general reference collection before the flooding.

“The biggest question for us is do we replace [items] in book format or do we replace [them] in electronic format,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said library officials do not want to replace books, especially, the teen novels, until the building is ready for them to be put on shelves.

That might not be for many months.

“We’re saying our best estimate [for reopening] is summer of 2018,” Franklin said. “We don’t want to speculate on anything beyond that because we don’t want to give any kind of false hope.”

In the meantime, the library’s staff is exploring its options to continue serving the community.

College Access Coordinator Kristopher Seydel says the closure moved Burton Barr’s materials, programs and staff to other branches. This is out of reach for some community members, Seydel said.

To help the community cope, Burton Barr is adopting more of an outreach mode to services, trying to retain a presence in the community, Seydel said.

They have reached out to other organizations around downtown Phoenix to find out which would be willing to host some of the library’s services.

To date, they have created partnerships with the Phoenix Art Museum, the Heard Museum, the Bret Tarver Learning Center and the Phoenix Children’s Museum.

This programming includes issuing library cards, connecting students with college guidance services, adult storytelling classes, STEM classes and basic computer skills classes.

Deputy Director of Collections and Programming Karl Kendall said the idea is to keep “at least a little taste of Burton Barr down at home.”

Burton Barr Adult Services Manager Carole Towles said the transition has not been entirely bad.

“It’s put us in a position where we’re establishing even more partnerships and our staff is getting a chance to work in different locations,” Towles said. “There’s some very positive outcomes out of a negative thing.”

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