One hundred years is a long time for a roof. Clearly, the Bangor Public Library’s striking copper roof and dome needs repair — and soon. The solution is also clear: another long-lasting copper fixture that preserves the building’s historic integrity.
Architects and engineers have determined what staff suspected, that the library on Harlow Street needs to replace its roof and have its roof structure fixed. Leaking water has put collections at risk, and library staff in October found a “river” flowing down the marble staircases. The ceiling has dropped nearly 3 inches in the second-floor Bangor Room. Water threatens the plaster work inside.
The library shouldn’t have to endure another winter and spring with tarp and plywood as temporary fixes. It can only use a bucket system, and try to air out its watery carpets, for so long. Eventually, the building will incur damage that will be more expensive to fix. But a new copper roof isn’t just needed to protect the library structure itself. Bangor has a few beautiful, old buildings left; the library is one, and it should stay that way.
We hope Bangor residents support the preservation of the library when they eventually vote, possibly June 11, on an approximately $3 million bond to cover renovation plans. Voter approval is required after the voters decided in November to amend the city charter to require a referendum if the cost of a project exceeds a certain sum.
Roofing experts have determined the best course of action — to put up another copper roof. The material lasts longer than that of a modern metal roof, won’t have to be replaced for another 80 to 100 years and has aesthetic qualities that mesh with the city’s historic district. Though a minor consideration, changing the material would require approval from the Bangor Historic Preservation Commission, according to Library Director Barbara McDade.
Some residents will balk at a $3 million project, which is understandable considering budgetary concerns at the city and state level. But the alternative — a metal seam roof — would require multiple fixes during the useful life of a copper roof. Thinking long term is to everyone’s benefit here. And preserving the quality of the appearance of the downtown is important.
Plans are well under way to pin down construction needs and costs. The library’s board of trustees, which had a consultant study the roof and available options for more than a year before soliciting bids, is expected to pick the winner by March 25. That way, construction can begin, pending vote results, as soon as possible this summer.
The library provides many resources and programs to the community and has earned popular support; more than 30,000 Mainers are members. It has at least one children’s program every day it’s open (six days per week), puts up monthly art exhibits, holds a summer music concert series, organizes author talks and the annual Bangor Book Festival and provides rooms at low cost to organizations needing a meeting space. People may borrow downloadable books, search the library’s 500,000-strong collection or use the interlibrary loan system to read almost any book in the country.
The original copper roof has served the library well, and it’s time for a replacement. We hope residents recognize both the need and the solution, and agree to preserve a historic community building in the heart of Bangor’s downtown.