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Portage Public Library Director Debbie Bird said a project to improve the building’s fire sprinkler system, which hasn’t been updated since the building was constructed more than two decades ago, has begun and will be completed in three phases.

The project includes installation of new sprinkler branch pipes, drops — tubes that lead to the sprinklers — and a nitrogen generator. Bird called the upgrades a necessity.

“That’s why we need to do this, because it was all corroded,” Bird said. “And it was just, pretty bad.”

Portage Public Library was originally built in 1994. The sprinkler pipes in the original section of the building have never been replaced. The children’s section wasn’t built until 2013. No work is being done in that section of the building.

Madison-based Dave Jones Inc. workers said the nitrogen generator should help avoid corrosion in the future. Mechanics separate nitrogen from the atmospheric air to slowly ensure the system is completely filled with nitrogen. The element also prevents pressure variations in the system.

The project will be completed over three phases. Phase 1 is nearly complete, Bird said, despite the work beginning Sept. 10.

Work is mostly in the ceiling, with portions being removed over time. A small desk has been moved in front of the double doors as patrons enter the library space with a single worker manning it. As people enter, they see the main room open a few feet in front of them, with tables set up throughout for patrons to use. Some shelving in the corners of the room hold books and movies.

Plastic sheets cover bookshelves where materials remain and some equipment, like the copier, which wasn’t moved from the main portion of the building.

Circulation clerk Pat Hilgendorf said maneuvering around the equipment hasn’t been difficult, though she was grateful some of the plastic sheeting covering bookshelves was removed. It makes her job retrieving materials for patrons less difficult, she added. Hilgendorf was gathering books among the stacks for a “pick list” Tuesday while actively working to avoid the plastic that can stick to shoes if it doesn’t remain adhered to the carpet.

Other sheeting covers the floor of the main library, along with cardboard, and though staff are allowed throughout the building, patrons are relegated to the eastern most portion of the building.

“We’re trying to avoid causing any interference for them, we want them to get done as quickly as possible,” Bird said. “But also, we have to be pretty careful, and that’s the reason we can’t allow anyone else in here. There’s just cabling laying all over, and even with the cardboard, it’s so easy to trip on everything.”

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Unknown timeline

An estimated completion date is still unknown, but Bird remains optimistic the library will be fully operating sooner than the absolute contract deadline of Jan. 24.

“Do I think it’s going to take that long? No,” Bird said. “They’re already way ahead of schedule. I’m hopeful maybe we can shave off more than a couple of months. But they don’t know what they might encounter.”

With renovations, extra work might crop up, Bird said, and staff and workers are realistic in their expectations despite hoping work will be done quickly.

Technological problems hit the library in its first few days of work. Staff shifted desks to a different portion of the building, but phones weren’t ringing at workers’ stations. Bird said that seems to have been fixed and calls were being answered Tuesday.

The project is expected to cost more than $200,000, which was budgeted by the city through its capital improvement plan. Bird said the project was “a can that was kicked down the road for almost three years,” but city officials knew it had to be done.

“If these pipes would corrode through, the damage would be catastrophic,” Bird said. “So we wanted it done, too.”

Since work began, Bird said the removal of the ceiling has made staff aware of other problems within the building. For instance, they had water damage in recent past years, which prompted the replacement of tiles.

While the library project continues, programs have shifted out into the community. In October, there will be a crafting session at Prairie Flower Beads in Portage, “Drama After Dark” at Neil’s Wine House, a tarot reading at The Mercantile, knitters club meetings at Two Rivers Coffee and a Monday night book club and mystery book club meetings at the Madison Area Technical College campus.

On Oct. 2, Bird said there will be regular hours at the clubhouse at Tivoli at Divine Savior Healthcare, with two morning and two afternoon hours each week.

Bird also was excited for pending outside improvements, like new landscaping that has been planned in recent months.

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget.

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