Most people enjoy chilling at their local library, but at the Community Library of Allegheny Valley in Harrison Township, their maintenance bills have been heating up.
After 18 years of service, the main compressor in the HVAC system went kaput in October, leaving patrons and staff without air conditioning.
Library administrators are utilizing social media in an effort to reach out to the community with a “We Want to Chill at the Library Campaign” GoFundMe page.
The spacious library opened in 1998,with a five-zoned cooling system and tall ceilings featuring glass skylights. The building’s interior heats up quickly from the sun, library staff says.
The library operates on a shoestring budget and doesn’t have the $12,000 needed to pay for the recently installed new HVAC system.
To make matters worse, the second largest air-conditioning unit recently quit, and the cost to repair that will run close to $10,000.
“This has been a nightmare,” says library director Kathy Firestone. “We don’t have the money to pay for the first unit yet, so this second one that serves our community room will have temporary work completed on the duct system.”
Ferguson Heating and Air Conditioning of New Kensington has provided service to the library since 2000 and recently removed via a large crane the broken A/C unit and replaced it with a new one, which only carries a one-year warranty.
Ferguson gave the library a 15 percent to 20 percent discount on the job, and company co-owner Joseph Ferguson says that most commercial A/C units have a life expectancy of 15 years.
“We gave the library a discount — we need to help them out,” Ferguson says. “Any help the community could give them would be appreciated, and we at Ferguson have always worked with several local libraries.”
Library board President Louis Hetrick set up the GoFundMe page in March with a goal of $15,000. To date, the page has generated more than $1,400 from 21 donations.
“We have to dress for two seasons at work — hot and cold,” says Lacey Gogal, a part-time library employee.
The library has heating issues, too, but keeping cool is the priority now, Firestone says.
“We use our Community Room all of the time, and it has been sweltering in there,” Firestone says. “We are sweating it to get the money, and, if everyone just gives even a small amount, it would add up.”
Firestone points out that although the library is one of 45 in Allegheny County that receives a percentage of RAD (regional asset district) money, the library’s annual maintenance budget of $14,000 will not cover the current bill.
“These are unexpected things,” Firestone says. “We are supposed to have a year of operational expenses set aside to run our operations, but we don’t because we have expenses that keep going up and we have not built that fund up in 15 years.”
Library funding was cut badly in 2008 by the state, Firestone says.
Ann Litz, vice president of the library board, says this unavoidable expense occurs at a bad time.
“The main problem facing our library is we suddenly have a major expense at a time when usage of library services is up but financial support is way down,” she says.
The library hopes Facebook, Twitter and other social media will help spread the word of their GoFundMe campaign rapidly.
“The problem with a shoestring budget is, well, shoestrings break,” Litz says. “Anything we make over our goal will then be used for repairs to our heating system.”
“We have decreased our staffing, and we are at the bare minimum to operate our library,” Firestone says.
Community Library of Allegheny Valley is one of two branches serving six communities in Harrison Township. The two libraries share an annual operating budget of a little more than $400,000.
The library service area encompasses 26,000 residents, and two of the six communities served — Tarentum and Brackenridge — have been designated as economically distressed areas, with nearly 13 percent living below the poverty level.
For many residents, a trip to the library offers a cool retreat.
“Summer temperatures can get hot, and many of our residents seek out the library as a place to wait out the hottest part of the day,” Firestone says. “This is such a concern for us as we have summer reading programs for the kids that run through August. I know from experience when we have 300 people in the library for our summer reading kick off, and we want to be cool.”
Residents without access to a computer are asked to stop in and check in with the desk if they wish to donate in person.
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.