Welty Library Building Closure ‘Devastating’ | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Welty Library Building Closure ‘Devastating’

The Eudora Welty Library is closed indefinitely due to fire and public-safety violations, but all staff were able to keep their jobs working at different branches of the Jackson-Hinds Library System.

The Eudora Welty Library is closed indefinitely due to fire and public-safety violations, but all staff were able to keep their jobs working at different branches of the Jackson-Hinds Library System. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— The Eudora Welty Library building is closed off to the public after the state fire marshal closed it Oct. 5 due to several violations of fire and life safety standards after the office conducted an investigation on Oct. 4. It is unclear at this point when the building will re-open.

“We’re devastated,” Patty Furr, executive director of the Jackson-Hinds Library System, told the Jackson Free Press. “I had to come back here yesterday and explain to my patrons that they would no longer have access to this library. This is a very important building, and it is the main downtown library.”

Furr said the library for its part has already taken care of 95 percent of violations listed in the fire marshal’s report and would be ready to re-open soon. She said all of her fire extinguishers are up-to-date and her employees were trained on how to use them.

The library is not the only occupant in the building, however. Several violations in the report are listed in the basement, where the county’s emergency-management responders and city print shop offices are located. The City of Jackson owns the building.

The report says mattresses, pillows and supplies are stored in the basement stairwell, which creates a public safety hazard. Some of these materials are left over from when the building was used as a fallout shelter in the 1960s, Furr said. The Eudora Welty Library building is 80 years old and was originally constructed to be a Sears store, not a library.

The Oct. 4 report from the fire marshal also says that the missing and broken ceiling tiles throughout the building need to be replaced, but Furr said the building has “a lot of problems” beyond that.

The sewage system in the building is also 80 years old, and needs to be repaired. The building, not originally constructed with air conditioning in mind in 1947, now has mold in the walls—not in any public areas, but in enough spaces that Furr is moving her administrative staff out to new offices in the Regions building on Lakeland Boulevard.

The library paid for an independent leak investigation in the building in 2015 to evaluate where the leaks were occurring and repairs were needed.

“We gave the report to the city, and nothing was done,” Furr said. “Now we’re a couple years down the road from that report, and the mold is spreading.”

The city did not respond to additional requests for comment before press time. Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba issued a statement on Oct. 5, indicating his office’s awareness of the closure.

“My office will continue to engage with the State Fire Marshal's Office, as well as the regional library commission for updates until this matter is resolved," Lumumba said in a press statement.

Additionally, the State Street building’s elevators did not pass inspections and need significant repairs. The building’s roof, although replaced recently, still leaks, Furr says, even worse than it did before the replacement.

With the building’s compounded problems, Furr said it might make more sense for the library to just re-locate.

“I don’t know if (the City has) got another building that we could get into, but fixing this building is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I’m not sure if it will be worth it,” Furr said. “I don’t know when to say that we would re-open, and again it breaks my heart.”

The Eudora Welty Library just opened a new 44-computer lab and installed fiber Internet access this year. The library board spent $300,000 refurnishing the library as well, Furr said.

Libraries in the State of Mississippi cannot own their own buildings, and they completely rely on funding from the city, county and state.

In the past few years, Furr had to slim down staff and library hours due to state funding cuts in the Personnel Incentive Grant program. No Jackson-Hinds personnel have lost their jobs as a result of Welty Library closing, however, because staffing is so scarce in the other branches, Furr said. Some administrative staff will remain working in the building on State Street, and the building is secured.

“We are ready to re-open, but the folks in the City are going to have to make a determination about what they want to do to fix the building, and until then we will continue to closely monitor the mold in the building, (which is) not in any public area and not in books,” Furr said.

Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at arielle@jacksonfreepress.com.

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