AUGUSTA — A sprinkler head that froze and broke early Monday at Lithgow Public Library, showering part of the historic original wing of the library in water and disabling the sprinkler system, forced closure of the building for two days.

Most of the library building at 45 Winthrop St. is expected to reopen to the public Thursday morning, according to officials.

The historic rooms of the library, where some cleanup remained to be done Wednesday and video and audiobook collections are kept, are to remain closed temporarily while staging is removed, furniture is returned to its proper place and shelving is moved. It should be back open Monday, Jan. 24, according to Sarah Schultz-Nielsen, director of the library.

Water ran through ceilings, down walls and through floors in the part of the original section of the library that contains periodicals that were damaged.

Officials said they were relieved the damage was not worse and did not involve the library’s book stacks.

“Water came through the ceiling, through a light fixture, along the walls, the woodwork and collected in the basement. There was about a foot of standing water in the basement, that the Fire Department was able to move,” Schultz-Nielsen said Wednesday of the consequences of a burst pipe, about which she learned by telephone at 2:15 a.m. Monday.


“That area of the historic wing will be closed for a bit. But, knock on wood, it could have been far more devastating. Water and libraries — together, that’s never good. Hopefully, it won’t happen again.”

The library building could not reopen to the public until the damaged sprinkler system was repaired, Schultz-Nielsen said. Officials said Wednesday the repair had been made and much of the library would reopen soon, with the main, modern two sections of the library expected to be open Thursday morning.

Robert LaBreck, Augusta’s facilities manager, said a sprinkler head froze and broke. The sprinkler head was replaced, and the system was refilled and made operational again Wednesday.

LaBreck said the building and its plaster walls and ceilings, furniture and equipment were not damaged. He said the incident mainly required a major cleaning effort, which was taken on by city maintenance and custodial staff.

On Wednesday, library services were offered online, over the telephone and at curbside, similar to how the library operated when closed to the public during part of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The library building was closed Tuesday and Wednesday so the sprinkler system could be fixed. Building codes do not allow the public into the building without the sprinkler system in working condition.


Schultz-Nielsen said it appeared a stained glass window in the damaged area was not damaged, although it did get wet as water came down through the ceiling from the attic, through the floors and ended up in the basement, where water accumulated in the boiler and electrical room. The library’s ornate and immaculately restored historic reading room was not damaged.

Schultz-Nielsen offered praise to Augusta firefighters, who were alerted by an alarm when the sprinkler system broke. She said the Fire Department did an outstanding job getting the water out of the building Monday. She also thanks LeBreck for his role in handling the damage.

Library aide Brenda Peaslee places a bag of books onto a table Wednesday at the Lithgow Public Library at 45 Winthrop St. in Augusta. The books are for a patron who had called from the parking lot. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

LaBreck said the sprinkler piping is in a space above the first floor ceiling, and the exterior walls within the space are not insulated, creating a situation where pipes can freeze. He said the city is working on a solution to the cold space, such as removing plywood sheathing within the mechanical room to allow air and heat to flow into the cold area to keep pipes from freezing.

Patrons can still call or email the library to ask staff members pick out requested items, which can be picked up at the curbside.

Borrowers can also use the Minerva online catalog to find items they want and place an online request. The library also offers online resources and streaming options on its website —

The curbside pickup option began with the pandemic and has continued for those who do not want to enter the library.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: