Children’s room reopens after flood
A faulty sprinkler head caused a flood in the children’s room at the South Country Library in January. After a four-month closure for repairs, the children’s room reopened last week.


Children’s room reopens after flood



All is well again at the South Country Library. The children’s room reopened last week after undergoing extensive repairs from an early-January flood.

Assistant director Patrick O’Leary remembers the winter morning of Jan. 8 vividly. It was chillingly cold outside and around mid-morning, a fire alarm went off. “There was no smoke,” he said, initially shrugging it off as a faulty alarm. He hurried downstairs to help some handicapped patrons get out. “As I was coming up the stairs I heard a ‘whoosh,’ and then water rushing,” he recalled. “There was nothing we could do.”

A contractor who happened to be at the library discussing an unrelated project helped O’Leary and Bellport Fire Department responders shut off the valve. Talk about being at the right place at the right time.

In just a few short minutes, rushing water destroyed the children’s room epicenter. “It was ugly,” O’Leary recalled, noting that the carpet, ceiling, insulation, lighting and materials in the water’s path all had to be replaced.

Though library officials initially believed that a burst pipe may have caused the leak, their insurance company’s investigation revealed a faulty sprinkler head was to blame.

The new-and-improved children’s room was funded in part by insurance coverage, community donations and reserve funds set aside by library director Kristina Sembler. Before being named director in 2016, Sembler served as head of the children’s department for a decade — and had daydreams about an eventual renovation of the space.

“It wasn’t a renovation where we gutted everything, but we gave it a nice facelift,” O’Leary said as he entered the space.

A brand-new carpet with a whimsical print covers the space. Formerly white walls are now coated in Weston flax, a pale yellow that pairs nicely with the room’s Palladian window. “It’s such a warm and sunny room,” said Sembler. Even on a rainy morning, bright, natural light flowed into the airy room.

The lights were replaced with bright LED tiles that fit seamlessly into the ceiling. “Eventually, we’re going to convert all of the lighting in the library to LED,” O’Leary explained.

Behind the desk, a row of new computers is set up and literary-inspired artwork adorns the walls — think Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” 

Jennifer Marin, who currently heads up the department, is looking forward to welcoming the kids back. “We really missed our families,” she said. “It felt empty without all of the familiar faces.”

Marin said she’s impressed with the reimagining of the space. A new, large table with seating for 14 will be used for activities and features several charging stations with USB ports. “[The table] is awesome because it can be used for crafts and games, but also Maker Space programs, which are very popular,” she said of STEM and robotics projects. “[The new space] allows us a lot of flexibility, because libraries are always changing.”

Marin sees the experience as a blessing in disguise for the department. “It’s a terrible thing that happened, but we used it as an opportunity to make things even better,” she said.

In conjunction with the children’s room reopening, O’Leary announced that the library would no longer collect overdue fines on children’s and young adult materials. “We’re doing this in the spirit of literacy, eliminating barriers to access for children and to foster a more stress-free lending relationship with our kids,” he said. The measure was approved by the library board in April.

Though Sembler has yet to see the final product due to an injury, she has been following along with photos from her colleagues. “It really was a labor of love,” she said. “We were devastated when the sprinkler head broke, but it’s so exciting that it’s come to fruition,” she said. “We tried to incorporate elements to bring people together and make it more of a communal space.”