Dig This With Deb

A column to tell people about the building process written by Deb Blanchard


Despite having visited over 30 new libraries in the last 4 years to talk with Directors about ‘what we wish we did differently’ and common problems that arose, I have still been surprised by some of the things on our library building project. Which, since you asked, is still on schedule despite what the building and ground are revealing to us, as they are uncovered.

Going from ‘great’ to ‘oh no’ was the reaction when D.A. Sullivan, the general contractor, told members of the Library Construction Committee at one of our weekly construction meetings that they had uncovered the original 1916 wood floor in the historic Carnegie where the children’s room was located.

From the small sample that was exposed, it seemed at first glance to be a maple floor that could perhaps be refinished and saved. Sullivan’s crew got to work opening up a larger portion in sample areas to determine if it was sound throughout. Again, it was decided to dig further.

Because of preliminary test work that was done previously, we had every reason to believe that the entire basement floor was a concrete slab. Imagine our shock and dismay to learn that the front half of the building under this wood floor was 2 x 4’s laid on top of dirt and filled in between with coal cinders! Viewing it, DPW Chief Doug Walsh commented that it was the ‘poor man’s slurry, probably commonly used in a time when the majority of households heated with coal.

To further compound the problem and add to the disappointment, when a sampling of the maple flooring was carefully removed, the underside showed evidence of terrible termite damage. Because the library has had an annual termite inspection for the 40 years I have been here with no evidence of the insects, I did a little sleuthing in old Athol Daily Newspapers to discover that in 1966 the library was infested with termites.

Town meeting members at that time were given the choice to appropriate $380 to drill 3/8 inch holes into the floor every four feet and inject the termite chemicals or to accept the chemical company’s recommendation to replace the floor with a concrete slab. In May the voters approved the first solution, leaving the damaged boards and flooring for us to discover 47 years later.

Now we have no choice. We must pry up the rotted boards, remove the coal cinders and then dig down 10 inches to accommodate a concrete slab. Because the ceiling height in the Carnegie cannot be changed, we must go down and haul dirt out. Or should I say the most excellent workers at D.A. Sullivan have to perform this laborious duty. They constructed large barn doors at the rear of the building and have a nifty little machine with a big metal bucket on the front to fill with the cinders and dirt and haul out. Rich Labonte (pictured) is shown revealing the extent of the problem floor for the architect and Construction Committee members.

I’m still holding out hope that one of the things they find in the excavation is a treasure chest full of gold!