Persistence saves library book sale

| Debra Smith, NGXchange | Book-lovers from near and far look forward to the twice-annual book sale at the New Gloucester Public Library. This fall was no exception and the […]

| Debra Smith, NGXchange |

Book-lovers from near and far look forward to the twice-annual book sale at the New Gloucester Public Library. This fall was no exception and the proceeds came within $10 of record sales. But, the sale almost didn’t happen.

Clockwise from upper left: Coffee, cocoa and popcorn to stay warm while waiting, book sale haul, teen volunteer passes out crowd control lanyards, checking out, the book sale’s big room.

The Friends of the Library*, a diligent group of volunteers that hosts the sales to raise funds for books, media, and programs not funded by the library’s limited budget, were informed by the former town manager that they couldn’t hold the sale. After the town hired a contractor to construct a handicap-accessible egress in the basement, where the sale is held, the state fire marshall’s office vetoed the use of the space until steps were taken to improve its fire safety. No application had been filed by the town with the fire marshall in advance of the egress construction, which had triggered an inspection and a decision that among several items that needed to be addressed, a fire break between the basement and the rest of the library was necessary in order for the basement to be used for public events.

Sprinkler system? Fire-retardant ceiling tiles? Painting ceilings with a fire-retardant paint? All possibilities ranged from costly to very costly, which the town was responsible for addressing. To add insult to injury, the town’s insurer refused to continue to insure the building unless another list of fixes was taken care of (i.e., holes in the side of an electrical panel, the location of a light switch, and plugging holes in floors around pipes with fire-rated material).

Fortunately, one of the Friends, Carol Gillis, is a retired architect with extensive experience with fire codes and understood that negotiating a resolution with the State Fire Marshall’s office was possible. Another Friend, Bev Cadigan, researched state law, Friend Kathleen Potter contacted Selectwoman Karen Gilles, and the chair of the Library Trustees*, Tim Terranova, got involved. Meanwhile, the Friends continued to sort and organize donations in preparation for the sale, which ended up delayed for a month from its usual October date.

According to Trustees Chair Tim Terranova, “The fire marshall’s office came in and did a second inspection and, based on Carol’s analysis, found some additional items that needed to be addressed and, if addressed, would allow the town to obtain the permit without the fire break or sprinkler system.  These additional items were much less expensive and could be accomplished by the town.  Based on the former town manager’s instruction, they were immediately done and the fire marshall approved the permit.”  

In the end, the requirements were not big-ticket items. The space, which is used twice a year for a total of 9.5 hours, was recategorized as mixed-use; the mechanical room needed to be labeled, have an automatic close door, and couldn’t be used for storage; the boiler room needed an automatic closer, interior spray foam to be covered with fire-retardant paint; and holes in ceiling to be repaired for a smoke barrier. All spaces open to the public need to have minimum 36-inch-wide clear path, and occupancy in the basement cannot exceed 49 people. The town took care of completing the required work in time for the November 2nd book sale. 

“Carol Gillis was instrumental in having this project succeed,” noted Tim Terranova.  “Without her skill, expertise, and tact, I do not think the sale would have continued.  The former town manager also played a large role, including reassigning town crew to address the issues expediently, hand-delivering proof of completion to the fire marshall’s office in order to expedite approval, and obtaining an almost instantaneous turnaround from the insurer prior to the sale date.”

Concerned that the November weather might be hard for people waiting in line to enter, the Friends set up a free coffee and cider (and popcorn) table outside, while a teen volunteer handed out numbered lanyards for patrons entering to keep the number of people inside under 49. In the end, Friends President Deb Chandler reported that there were some positive outcomes. The limited number of people in the basement at any time made it necessary to limit the number of sale staff, and it felt less cramped and easier to see the books, puzzles, and other wares for sale. In addition, there weren’t long lines of people at the check-out. And, overall, the Friends are hopeful that this experience has led to better communication between the Friends and Trustees, and the Town.

*The Friends of the Library is an independent organization that supports the library. (This is common among libraries.) The Library Trustees are an appointed town board.