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Raindrops keep falling on the books

Some librarians turn out the lights, lock the doors and pop up an umbrella when they scurry home on rainy nights. The Silt Library branch manager unfurls sheets of black plastic and covers up books.

“If there’s a hint of rain, we shroud all the books in two historic leak areas,” said Janine Rose. “The leaky area is creeping in other directions.”

All but one of the Garfield County library system’s six libraries have flat roofs. Most have leaked since their construction in the early 1980s.



Rose said Silt’s library is slated for a new, pitched roof next year, and you’d think she just received a truckload of free books.

“I’m thrilled,” Rose said.



Leaky roofs are a chronic maintenance problem for Garfield County’s library system, which is funded by a 0.25 percent sales tax and whatever extra cash the county commissioners decide to contribute.

In 1998, the commissioners gave the library system $48,000 to replace the New Castle Library roof and partially replace the Glenwood Springs Library roof.

Garfield County Library System Director Jaci Spuhler is no fan of flat roofs. “This is the first library I ever worked in with a flat roof. I don’t know why this kind of construction was so popular in the 1980s.”

Chris Chen, a structural engineer at Schmueser Gordon Meyer in Glenwood Springs, said it’s common for commercial buildings to be built with flat roofs. One advantage is it’s easier to place mechanical units such as heating and air conditioning systems on a flat roof.

A down side, Chen said, is flat roofs can be more prone to leaking than a pitched roof. “A flat roof must also be sturdier, due to the snow load,” he said.

Chen said moisture is kept out of flat roof buildings by a membrane in the roofing. A typical membrane will last 25 to 30 years, depending on how well it is cared for, he said.

Spuhler said the Silt Library’s membrane carried a 10-year warrantee that expired in December. “It started leaking in January,” she said.

Spuhler said the Silt roof started springing leaks again when recent rains hit. She said a few books suffered water damage, but the staff was quick to react. “When it rains, everyone on the staff looks up,” she said.

Rose said she and her staff get out sheets of plastic, trash cans and towels when rains threaten. They are so well rehearsed in the leaky roof drill, one staffer battles the rain while the other continues checking out library users. Patrons even get into the act to save books and prevent damage.

“People love books,” Rose said. “This gets them riled up.”

Spuhler said after Silt gets a new roof, Parachute is next in line.

The Gordon Cooper Library in Carbondale was the last library to be built. Spuhler said the roof doesn’t spring leaks, but two years ago, “there were bats in the walls.”

A professional bat removal expert was brought in, and he extracted more than 100 of the critters. The bats have reportedly not returned.


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