Officials unsure when library will reopen

By ANTHONY WARREN,

More than a year after it shuttered due to black mold and flood damage, the Charles Tisdale Library remains closed with no clear answers on when it will reopen.

The popular Northside Drive branch was closed last spring, after heavy rains caused severe flooding in the basement.

That flooding, in turn, caused the library’s black mold problem to grow out of control, forcing the library Executive Director Patty Furr to shut its doors for safety reasons.

After promises that the branch would be reopened in time for the 2017-18 school year, Tisdale remains closed and Jackson city leaders appear to be no closer to reopening it.

“It breaks my heart to go to the Tisdale Library and see kids doing homework on the steps. I know they want a safe place to come after school and they don’t have it anymore,” Furr said.

At its May meeting, the Jackson-Hinds Library System board of trustees voted to approach the city council and the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to discuss the problem in the near future.

Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote wasn’t sure why the library hadn’t been reopened.

“It’s exacerbating for the library to be closed more than a year without a new home being found for it,” he said. “People in that area deserve to have a library close at hand, particularly those who do not own a car.”

The library closed in April 2017. Library officials told the Sun at the time that they were looking to relocate the branch’s books, as well as find a new location to house the library, at least temporarily.

 

Furr recommended moving the library to a 15,000-square-foot building on Chastain Drive, near McWillie Elementary.

Furr said the move was supported by Alice Tisdale, the wife of the late Charles Tisdale, and added that proposed facility was within walking distance of the Northside Drive location.

The library director brought the proposal to the council last year, but the city never acted on it.

“We came up with a wonderful building. It had a huge amount of space for meeting rooms, a teen center, a large computer room and a literacy center,” she said. “We could have a literacy center there. That’s one thing the library system needs to have.”

The building also had additional space that could be used for the library’s administrative offices. Previous administrative offices at the Eudora Welty Branch were abandoned after black mold there began making staffers sick.

The administrative offices are now housed in the River Hills Office Complex on Lakeland Drive.

Money is likely the reason the branch has not been reopened. The asking price for the Virginia College building was around $975,000 last year, at least $225,000 more than what the Tisdale Building is covered for in its insurance policy.

The city has a $700,000 to $750,000 policy on the building with Travelers Insurance.

A claim was filed on the building last fall, but in December the Sun learned Travelers was unwilling to pay the full amount.

At the time, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the insurance company’s proposal was being evaluated by the city’s legal department.

“They are willing to cover (damages), but not to the extent we believe they should,” Lumumba told the Sun.

It was not known how much Travelers was willing to pay, or if the city had collected on it.

Jackson Director of Communications Kai Williams declined to comment.

 

Meanwhile, plans to relocate the library’s books have also fallen through.

The Tisdale branch has approximately 36,000 titles, all of which are sitting on the branch’s shelves untouched.

Last year, Jackson-Hinds was offered space at the Metrocenter Mall to move them. However, the mall was closed earlier this year before they could be relocated.

“We were very close to moving them (the books). They (the mall owners) even showed us where we would be able to move them,” Furr said. “We were about two or three weeks from moving them, and the Metrocenter closed.”

Furr explained the books can’t be relocated to other branches, until the library determines if they’ve been contaminated by mold spores.

“All it would take is one tropical event, where we would lose power for a couple of weeks and the mold would start growing and contaminate any library we send them to,” she said.

The books were last tested about eight months ago, and no mold spores were found.

The system is running dehumidifiers at the Tisdale branch to keep the books dry until they can be tested again.

Testing will cost between $1,500 and $2,500.

However, it’s unclear how successful efforts have been.

The air conditioner compressors at the Tisdale branch went out about a month ago, meaning that there is no air circulating in the facility, something that also could contribute to mold growth, Furr said.

“We have asked the city to look at the problem.”

Furr is afraid to put the books in storage, also because of the mold issue. The books must remain in a well ventilated area to stay dry.

“You have to have a heated, cooled storage space. You have to have air conditioning and heat,” she said. “I can’t even imagine what it would cost.”

She said she doesn’t want the books to be thrown away and said they can be cleaned if mold spores are found in them.

Costs to clean the books once infected would cost as much as $40,000.

“It’s a wonderful collection. I never want to throw them away. That’s unthinkable,” she said.

Black mold growth occurs “where there is moisture from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks (and) condensation,” according to the Centers for Disease Control’s Web site.

The mold can lead to a number of health problems, including upper respiratory infection symptoms, and can aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, the CDC Web site states.