Leaky pipe forces another closure of Turnbull Library
Published: September 12, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The Charles Wesley Turnbull Library was closed Monday and Tuesday because of a pipe malfunction on a water heater, but this latest in a series of such malfunctions has raised the hackles of senators who in July called for an audit of the $24 million project.
Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Alicia Barnes said that the library reopened Wednesday but that the leaking pipe drained the library's cistern, leading to unsanitary conditions that forced the department to send staff home on Tuesday.
DPNR maintenance personnel and a contractor performed the necessary repairs, and Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said the piping needed to be replaced because it has a spring-like function that was triggered during the malfunction, weakening the spring and rendering it unusable.
Smalls also said the cistern shut off the flow of water as a safety mechanism once the leak had threatened to reduce the water supply to a level that would tap into the reserve needed to maintain the fire sprinkler system.
Barnes said she did not know the total cost of the repairs, and Smalls said that the equipment is under warranty.
The ceremonial ground-breaking for the library took place in 2006, but construction did not begin until 2008, with an initial budget of $20 million.
However, as recently as March, the Public Finance Authority requested another $150,000 for a contract with Jaredian Design Group for design changes to the library and another $2 million for exterior features, signage and solar panels.
While staff were transferring materials from the Enid Baa Library in downtown Charlotte Amalie, which closed in mid-December, the Turnbull Library's air conditioning units leaked, resulting in a number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration citations.
In late March, the library still was without air conditioning, and high temperatures forced DPNR to send library staff home off and on for two weeks, delaying the shelving and cataloging of books and pushing back the date of a "soft opening" for the library, which occurred June 17.
The wholesale replacement of the roof, which makes loud popping noises expands in the heat, is not scheduled to be undertaken until October, according to Smalls.
Smalls said the cost of replacing the roof will be born solely by the contractor, Balboa Construction, and Balboa's subcontractors because the roof had never been accepted by the Public Works Department.
In early August, Ingrid Bough, territorial director of DPNR's Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums, said the opening of the children's and young adult sections has been stalled because of a combination of short-staffing and minor facility issues.
Barnes said that the department has prioritized opening the children's and young adult wings. She hesitated to give a date but said that two additional staffers had been hired this week, and that those wings are an area of special focus for the department.
Smalls said that, in his opinion, the recent breakdown with the pipes was not an unusual event and did not signify poor workmanship by the contractor. Nor have any of the library's other deficiencies, including the installation of inappropriate, noise-making roof panels, risen to the level of corrective legal action or constituted a breach of the contractor's obligations to the government, according to Smalls.
"The building was designed according to the specifications and designs. Following the opening of any building, you do go through a period where you have to make necessary repairs and adjustments," he said.
Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly strongly disagrees with this assessment, calling the library an example of private contractors who do not deliver quality work gouging the public.
"What I don't understand is how can you have a building that cost $24 million - at least that's what they told us - and you cannot fully utilize it, and there is a bad roof and there are leaks, and no one is in jail and no one is being sued," Rivera-O'Reilly said. "I am very glad we have called for an audit of the library. This is just a slap in the face to the taxpayers, and it's a slap in the face of the public of St. Thomas."
Rivera-O'Reilly said the ultimate responsibility for holding contractors accountable rests with the governor and his administration.
"It angers me that we have such incompetence in our government, and it angers me that we have businesses and contractors who believe it is okay to take advantage of our government," she said.
Sen. Myron Jackson, who has in the past expressed displeasure with the lengthy delay in the library's opening and with the lack of access of the public to certain materials, such as the historical archives contained in the Von Schulten collection, said he is concerned about DPNR's ability to maintain and regulate the problematic new facility.
"Leaks and pipes and all of those things are the testing grounds. Unfortunately, we should have worked out all of those kinks by now before the library was in full operation," Jackson said.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.