Reformer tours renovated Rockingham library

Wednesday August 21, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- The Rockingham Free Public Library could gain a certificate of occupancy at the end of the week, Municipal Manager Chip Stearns said during a private tour of the facility Tuesday.

Stearns walked through the closed library with members of the media and explained the progress that has been made in each area of the building. Engelberth Construction Inc. is finishing a $2.9 million renovation project and Stearns hopes the century-old structure will reopen to the public by the end of September.

The library's services are currently being run out of a space that once held a local bank, which was selected by the Library Board of Trustees in May. The temporary location is at 41 The Square.

Stearns' tour began outside, where he said the library is "not clean, but it is not completely under construction, either."

The stairs leading up to the main entrance's solid slab doors have been resealed, which will prevent water from getting in behind them and affecting the granite. There is also a parking space right next to the building compliant with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, in addition to the ADA parking spots along Westminster Street. The elevator has been functioning for about three weeks.

"Many of the things that we chose not to add back are things that can be done at a later date for no additional cost than what the construction cost would have been anyway," Stearns said. "I can tell you the biggest item in terms of money was ornate woodwork being done for pillars at the main entrance and you can clearly see where they were supposed to go."

He said this saved a great deal of money and the library trustees can in the future chose to add the pillars.

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Baybutt Construction, a Keene, N.H-based company, had been hired as the general contractor for the $2.9 million renovation. But the project came to a standstill when subcontractors refused to continue their jobs and insisted Baybutt had not paid them for the work already done. Rockingham town officials terminated a contract with Baybutt when the corporation's financial woes were realized.

Baybutt Construction did not take out a performance or a payment bond, which acts as a sort of insurance contract and was a project requirement from the town. Stearns said the town of Rockingham paid about $980,000 to the Baybutt for the project before everything went south. The company's owner, Frederick L. Baybutt, declared personal bankruptcy in February.

Engelberth was selected by the Rockingham Selectboard on Tuesday, Jan. 15, to "button up" the building by closing in its roofs and walls and making it "reasonably weathertight." The Colchester-based company was later tapped to finish the renovation project.

Stearns even said a person working on the project to fulfill court-ordered community service hours was recently given a permanent job by Engelberth due to his work ethic at the library site.

The municipal manager's tour continued up the front steps to the inside of the entrance, where library patrons will for the first time in many years have access to the building's second floor via stairs. The staircase had previously been inaccessible because it did not meet fire code requirements.

The first room inside the library boast a mosaic that has been part of the floor since the building opened in 1909. Stearns said he has personally steam-cleaned the mosaic once and is prepared to do it about five more times. The room's walls and ceilings have the same plaster and lath, but they have been painted.

What was once the children's room, as part of the wing added in 1929, will soon serve a quiet reading room with newspapers and periodicals. Stearns said the original bookshelves will remain though the father of Engelberth's supervisor repaired them and cut them down to a more appropriate size. The fireplace that regularly burned in the room will no longer be used because it is too close to air-conditioning units outside and a door.

The large room next to it, added in 1965, will be used for adult fiction, according to Library Director Celina Houlne.

The downstairs area, which was once utilized for storage, will house the children's room and all mechanical equipment. Bathrooms and a janitor's closet have been added to it. The new second floor in the historic room, which now boast the chandeliers that once belonged to the first floor.

"I think we have one hell of a building. It may not be what everybody wanted, but it's the beautiful end of a very desperate situation," Stearns said while workers tinkered away both around and underneath him. "Every sub wound up with some skin in the game."

He said one final thing that must be done is the abatement of a floor that has small traces of lead in it due to the polyurethane that was lathered onto it.

Houlne explained the library was built in 1909 with monetary funds from legendary American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. She said only four libraries in the state were built with money from the famous industrialist.

Domenic Poli can be reached at, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.


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