‘I’m optimistic’: With new floor finally in place, St. George library basement anticipated to reopen soon

ST. GEORGE — With a fresh layer of concrete on the floor replacing the one cracked open during flooding caused by a monsoon storm last summer, the basement of the St. George Branch of the Washington County Library has passed a major hurdle in its eventual reopening to the public.

In this file photo, water beneath the floor has pushed the accordion door into the ceiling at the St. George Library. It is currently jammed and immovable, St. George, Utah, Aug. 25, 2020 | File photo courtesy of Joel Tucker, St. George News

“Working on the structure itself has been pretty significant,” Joel Tucker, director of the Washington County Library System, told St. George News on Thursday as he stood in the basement of the St. George library. Where a cracked floor and 3-to-6 inches of water sat the morning of Aug 24, a new – and notably dry – concrete floor sat in its place.

The library’s basement contains a large community room (which can be made into two smaller rooms through the use of a folding wall), three conference/study rooms, the library’s MakerSpace and an administrative office area.

The monsoon storm that occurred the night of Aug. 23 wreaked havoc across St. George and left flooding and sinkholes in its wake. It was eventually discovered that one of those sinkhole formed behind the library.

“(The rain) created a sinkhole in back of the library about where the electrical boxes are and came underneath (the floor) and pushed up through the concrete, which is why we had to replace the floor,” Tucker said.

A screen capture taken from security camera footage showing the main part of the library’s basement beginning to flood from beneath the floor. Water seeping into the basement is coming up from cracks made in the concrete during a flood event that occurred Aug. 24, 2020 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Library System, St. George News

Video from security cameras show the gradual rise of water up through the floor. As parts of the floor cracked apart and rose a few inches, a folding wall in the basement’s community room was lifted with it and broke through the ceiling.

Another, smaller folding wall located in one of the basement’s conference rooms was similarly damaged.

While some cracks formed on walls within the basement as well, the structure’s load-bearing walls were unaffected. An engineer would subsequently clear the building overall as safe for continued public use, Tucker said.

The MakerSpace experienced some of the flooding but was largely unscathed. Some books that were on the bottom shelves in the administration area were also damaged, but nowhere near the numbers they had previously.

The August flood marks the fourth time the library has flooded since it opened in 2009.

“I didn’t think it would flood again,” Tucker said, “but I didn’t think it would the last two times either.”

The new cement floor in the basement of the St. George branch of the Washington County Library that replaces the original floor after it broke apart in a flood event that occurred in August 2020, St. George, Utah, Feb. 11, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Following each flood, measures have been pursued to mitigate future flooding. This time around, the sinkhole caused by the storm was filled in with concrete, and it has been proposed that the sidewalk that runs behind the library be raised so it doesn’t direct water toward the building.

Tucker said the biggest issue the library has had in moving forward was replacing the cement floor, and that was finished last week. Now that that is out of the way, he said, he expects the remainder of the repairs to run smoothly.

Work yet to be done involves replacing the folding wall in the main community room, fixing parts of the ceiling, replacing a folding wall in one of the larger conference rooms with a solid wall, putting down new carpet and painting the walls.

“I’m optimistic we’ll be able to open fairly soon,” Tucker said.

If all goes well, the library director said he sees the basement section of the St. George library reopening well before the summer reading season hits.

A sign at the top of the stairs leading to the St. George library’s basement tell library patrons they shall not pass due to ongoing repairs in the waking of last summer’s flooding of the basement, St. George, Utah, Feb. 11, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Despite losing the ability to use the large community room and other parts of the basement at the St. George library, Tucker said community rooms at other libraries remain open for public use. However, due to the pandemic, not many people have been eager to hold public events at the library, he said.

The Washington County Library System was closed for a brief period at the onset of the pandemic, but has long-since reopened while libraries elsewhere have remained closed, Tucker said.

In order to maintain public safety, library patrons are asked to observe masks and social distancing measures. Efforts have also been made to make sure books returned to the libraries are safe to handle.

Though he was unable to give an estimate on the general cost of repairs to the basement, Tucker said he believed repairs will definitely be over $100,000.

Last week, the Washington County Commission approved spending that went toward the concrete used to fix the basement floor and a new folding wall for the community room. These items alone were $57,000 combined.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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