Library leak leads to health concerns

January 11, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

HYDE SQ.—The roof of the Connolly Branch Library, replaced less than four years ago, leaked again last month, causing plaster to fall in one corner.

Librarians with health concerns about mold or other leak-related irritants were temporarily reassigned to other branches. The understaffing forced the library to close at lunch hour for at least a few days.

While the roof has been resealed and hours appear to be back to normal, advocates are seeking long-term solutions to yet another maintenance issue with Jamaica Plain’s aging libraries.

“In the long run, it looks like we had a job that wasn’t well done to start with,” said Anne Wheelock of Friends of the Connolly Branch Library about the roof.

“Our roofs should be working a lot better for us,” said Carol Mahoney, the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) chief of branch libraries. The City of Boston oversees the construction contract and is looking into responsibility for a long-term fix, she said.

“I’d like to see that whoever the [roofing] contractor was gets no other business in the city until it’s fixed,” said City Councilor John Tobin, who visited the library shortly after the leak.

Industrial hygienists from the librarians’ union and the BPL inspected the library for pollutants and allergens last week. Mahoney said the BPL hygienist’s report should be available this week and will be on view at the library.

She noted that the understaffing that led to partial closures was also related to holiday vacation schedules. “Our intent is not to have to close again for lunch,” she said.

“To have to tell people, ‘Please come back at 1’ is not what we want,” Wheelock said.

“If I’m working in a place like that, I’d do the same thing,” Tobin said of librarians’ requests for health inspections and reassignment. “Actually, I do work in a place like that and I should do something like that,” he added, referring to longstanding concerns about air quality in City Hall.

While health conditions could be a concern for everyone, Mahoney noted, they mostly involve librarians who work there all day.

The Connolly leak coincided with the start of a campaign by JP-based Massachusetts Jobs With Justice (JWJ) to highlight what it calls understaffing of the BPL branch library system. JWJ is a coalition of unions and other workers’ rights activists.

Jennifer Doe, JWJ’s worker’s rights organizer, said “health and safety issues” go hand-in-hand with staffing concerns.

“It’s a workplace issue,” she said. “It manifests in libraries being closed for lunch hour.”

Conditions and maintenance are system-wide concerns in the libraries, she said, but added, “I think JP’s libraries are supposed to be the worst among them.”

The nearly century-old Jamaica Plain Branch Library on Sedgwick Street recently suffered heating problems that resulted in brief closures, as well as leaks and air-condition problems. Renovation and expansion planning there is set to resume this year after a political feud between Mayor Thomas Menino and BPL President Bernard Margolis derailed and de-funded it.

The 75-year-old Connolly Branch at 433 Centre St. already got its major renovation in 2004. That work was controversial, with health concerns that resulted in an abrupt closure that lasted more than half a year.

At that time, librarians were supposed to keep working during the renovations. But some of them reportedly became ill from dust and fumes. They were reassigned to other libraries, and the branch was shut down due to what the BPL called “inconvenience.” The health concerns behind the closure were later publicized by the Friends group.

The 2004 work included a new roof. According to Wheelock, who cited an internal letter from a Connolly Branch librarian, the roof has leaked several times since then.

The most recent leak followed the Dec. 13 snowstorm. It was in a spot that had leaked before.

“It appeared that the repairs hadn’t worked,” Wheelock said. While some plaster fell, no library materials were damaged, she said, adding that has happened in previous leaks.

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