ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An arson fire set a month ago in the North Valley Library could keep the popular site closed for half a year as cleanup crews struggle with the damage.
As many as 80 percent of the 60,000 volumes may have to replaced, said Dean Smith, director of library services for the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library System.
And there is extensive smoke and fire repair that needs to be completed at the library on Second NW, he said.
In all, it could cost as much $500,000 to complete all of the work and replace the books, he said, although that’s just an early estimate.
The 15,000-square-foot building is operated under a cooperative agreement between the city and county, with the city’s insurance covering the books and the county’s insurance covering the building, said Tierna Unruh-Enos, library marketing manager. How much of the expenses will actually be covered is still to be determined, she said.
The Bernalillo County Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the fire, but has just recently finished interviewing all of the employees, said Larry Gallegos, county fire spokesman.
Other than confirming that the fire was arson, the department could make no additional comment until the investigation is complete, he said.
But Smith said he’s been told a door on the east side of the building may have been left unlocked. And on that side of the building, employees must go outside in order to check and make sure the door is locked before closing up, he said.
“That’s something we’re going to change,” Smith said.
The first thing the restoration company did was attack the glass throughout the building, he said.
“You think of glass as being impermeable, but they told us if the soot isn’t cleaned off right away, it would yellow the glass,” he said.
A month after the fire ravaged the children’s section, officials are still trying to sort out the damage.
“There are lots of things to do,” Smith said. “I always used to think that water was our worst enemy, but it’s not. It’s quite clear that smoke is our worst enemy.”
The fire itself only damaged a relatively small number of books and books on tape, with the smoke causing most of the problems.
The smoke also carried plastic residue that got caught in corners and hardened into dark black, spider-web like formations.
“I learned that smoke goes to the coolest part of the room,” Smith said. “Once it heats up in one area, it moves to another area.”
That means all the woodwork will have to be sandblasted, as well as many of the shelving units.
The library serves an average of 300 people daily, the five days a week it is open, Smith said.
“Our goal is to get it open as quick as possible,” he said. “The one good thing is everybody is cooperating together.”