Edmonton

Thousands of sooty library books need extra TLC as Strathcona County blast cleanup continues

Restoration efforts are ongoing at the Strathcona County Library in Sherwood Park, that has been closed since an explosion was set off in an adjacent parkade last November.

Around 200,000 items were coated in soot after November explosion

The Strathcona County Library has been closed since last November. (Strathcona County )

Restoration efforts are ongoing at the Strathcona County Library in Sherwood Park, that has been closed after two explosions in an adjacent parkade last November.

The explosions caused a fire and smoke infiltrated the building, said library CEO Sharon Siga. 

"On everything was a very thin layer of soot that you would feel if you touched it but may not notice otherwise," she said. 

Around 200,000 items had to be professionally vacuumed, wiped clean and put back on the shelves, Siga said.

"It was quite a huge project."

Even though the materials are all salvageable, the library opted to replace its collection of cardboard books for toddlers, said Siga. 

"That's an audience that explores their world by putting everything in their mouths," she explained. "We just thought psychologically, with that collection, we want to go with new."

The county is hoping to reopen the library and the parkade in early May.

The library is normally housed in the Strathcona County Community Centre, which also includes the county's council chambers, meeting rooms and the parkade where the explosions took place.

The portion of the complex that houses the county's council chambers reopened in late November.

The library has continued to operate out of a temporary location since the explosions. 

The Strathcona County Library is temporarily housed in a former fitness centre at 100 Broadview Drive in Sherwood Park. (Strathcona County)

It's located in a former fitness facility on Broadview Drive and spans 24,700-square-feet over two floors.

The current collection of about 55,000 items is comprised of books, CDs and DVDs that were checked out at the time of the explosions, and new items that have been ordered since.

The St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan and Edmonton public libraries were able to lend equipment and shelving to continue operations out of the temporary location, Siga said. 

"We find it quite miraculous that things came together so well."

The library staff has been instrumental in maintaining a sense of normalcy, she added. 

"They have been just amazing at providing great customer service under strange and difficult circumstances."

A scaled-back version of the library's usual programming is being offered, including resume-building help, services for newcomers and support from a writer-in-residence.  

The complete restoration of the Strathcona County Community Centre is expected to cost around $14 million.

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