BROOKSVILLE — Visitors stepping inside the East Hernando Branch Library will be hard-pressed to notice any sign of last year’s fire that damaged part of the building along with about 1,500 books and magazines.
A new coat of paint, new carpet and ceiling tiles, and a thorough cleaning of the books gives the entire place that new-library ambiance.
The book aisles, computer room, children’s area and other familiar spots all are pretty much in the same place, said Lauren Rouhana, collection development coordinator.
One thing long-time patrons will not see is the stuffed turtle in the children’s section that had become something of a favorite but was destroyed by the fire. Rouhana said she hopes to find a similar reptile soon.
The outdoor patio area, where the fire was set, also was destroyed and has not been replaced.
Rouhana and staffers can’t wait to show off the place. They plan a grand opening from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 6. People will be able to tour the library, see product demonstrations and hear speakers Adam Brooks, director of libraries and community services; Jim Adkins, county commissioner; and Lynn Gruber-White, president of the Ridge Manor Property Owners Association.
“We’re just excited to finally see it open,” said Brooks, participating in a media day Tuesday at the library at 6457 Windmere Road, off State Road 50.
In July 2013, a fire broke out at the library. It damaged the building and about 1,500 of the library’s 1,800 books and magazines.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested Joseph Michael Brannen, then 18, and charged him with second-degree arson. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Brannen told sheriff’s detectives he set the blaze and returned to the scene wearing fire gear in hopes of helping firefighters extinguish it.
So far the repairs have cost about $670,000, with county insurance paying for much of it, said Cristi Charlow, risk management coordinator.
While work was being done, patrons were using the Ridge Manor Community Center at 34240 Cortez Blvd. as a temporary library.
While some items were destroyed by flames and smoke, many more were damaged by water that poured down when the building’s sprinkler system activated.
To rid the books of the smoky smell, the county hired a contractor to clean every book.
A contingent of firefighters was on-hand Tuesday to examine the facility and help library staffers stock books.
The project concluded ahead of schedule and without any cost increases.
Samsson Construction, based in Hernando Beach, completed the project for less than 90 percent of the original bid of $83,771, according to a company news release.
The work was completed in 45 days — 21 days ahead of schedule — and was achieved without any change orders requiring additional payments.
The library will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The building also will be used as an early-voting site Aug. 16 through 23.