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Forbes Library fire damage estimate as high as $150,000

Arson suspect arrested in staircase blaze

Mark Toczydlowski, a custodian at Forbes Library,was one of the first at the scene of the fire.
(Gazette/Carol Lollis)

Mark Toczydlowski, a custodian at Forbes Library,was one of the first at the scene of the fire. (Gazette/Carol Lollis)

NORTHAMPTON — A small army of building and artwork restoration workers will spend the next three weeks at Forbes Library repairing and restoring damage from Monday’s deliberately set fire, the damage from which is now estimated at $100,000 to $150,000, far exceeding the original estimate.

Library Director Janet Moulding said one of the main drivers of the cost is that there are thousands of books, DVDS and CDs, and their corresponding plastic security cases, that will need to be taken apart, cleaned and put back together after being coated with chemicals from fire extinguishers.

The library will also have to replace the 120-year-old ornately carved wooden bannister that was damaged in the fire at an estimated cost of about $10,000, Moulding said.

She said an architect is examining the bannister and attempting to find an appropriate craftsperson to fashion a replacement.

Moulding said a crew of about 15 to 20 people will be working six days a week for the next three weeks or so to finish the work.

The suspect in the fire, Eric Bertrand, 54, is undergoing a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation after being arrested Tuesday on a charge of burning a public building. Bertrand was found incompetent to stand trial at his arraignment in Northampton District Court Wednesday and was ordered to be committed by Judge Thomas Estes. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Aug. 8.

Authorities say the fire was set in an interior staircase Monday and was put out by a library staff member and a patron with fire extinguishers.

Moulding said in addition to the repairs to the bannister, other clean-up work involves removing the fire extinguisher dust from the library’s artwork, and library materials like DVDs and CDs.

Moulding said some of those items are being cleaned off and moved downstairs so they can be checked out by patrons and as currently checked-out materials come back in, they will remain downstairs.

Moulding said larger particles of the firefighting dust were removed with vacuums and workers from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center are using brushes to remove the finer particles.

The dust needs to be removed quickly, Moulding said, because the fire-extinguishing material is corrosive.

The library’s second floor will be closed to the public while repairs and cleanup efforts are underway, likely to be about three weeks, according to Moulding.

The second floor may be accessible to the public sooner if the majority of the cleanup work is done before then, said Assistant Director Lisa Downing.

The second floor houses the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum, the Hosmer Gallery and the library’s music, audiobook and movie collections.

While some of the extinguisher dust drifted into the Coolidge library, no items inside it were damaged, according to Downing.

Moulding said that the library is still doing inter-library loans, which allows patrons to check out materials from other libraries in the state, which will be helpful if they can’t be checked out from Forbes temporarily.

Moulding said the library building itself is insured by the city and the library’s materials are covered by its insurance provider.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.

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