RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Jo Payne and her husband Ted Pey love books. So much so that the North Valley couple visits a library at least once a week.
The pair was visiting the North Valley branch Thursday afternoon for the first time since it re-opened on Tuesday after smoke and fire damage forced its closure in July. They live near the Second Street library but were forced to go to other branches while it was closed.
“We were sad when it closed,” Pey said. “We are definitely book lovers.”
In July, a person or persons entered the library when it was closed and started a fire in the children’s section, causing extensive smoke damage and destroying 80 percent of the 50,000 book collection. Crews had to gut the 14,000-square-foot, 20-year-old building to repair the smoke damage.
Investigators know the fire was intentionally set but not exactly what happened or who was responsible, said Larry Gallegos, spokesman for the Bernalillo County Fire Department.
“The cause of a number of fires are never determined,” he said this week. “Many times the evidence is burned and destroyed in the fire.”
Repairs cost about $800,000 and were paid for with insurance money. Library Director Dean Smith said the building now has fewer but more efficient light fixtures, a new heating and cooling system, a fresh paint job, new carpet and extra power that will allow the library to go from 12 to 24 computers. The shelves have also been reconfigured to give the space a more open feeling, which did not go unnoticed by Payne.
“I love this,” Payne said. “To me it looks more open and it feels bigger. But we walked around and found all the sections that were here before.”
The couple checks out regular books but is also fond of audiobooks that they listen to when traveling or driving around town.
“We are so happy to be reunited with our library,” Payne said. “We could not believe somebody would do that kind of damage to a public facility.”
The library served 2 million people in 2013 and circulated 4 million items.