Jeff Bilodeau, service manager from W.H. Demmons, and library director Richard Fortin confer Wednesday about the heating unit at the Bailey Public Library in Winthrop following a malfunction there that led to the building’s closure. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

WINTHROP — While the Bailey Public Library has been closed to the public for several days due to fumes from a major oil leak over the weekend, officials are hopeful they should be able to reopen in a limited capacity by Monday.

The past weekend’s record-breaking low temperatures played a big part in the malfunction, according to Bailey Public Library Director Richard Fortin.

Smoke is seen coming from Bailey Library chimney Saturday during an oil leak at the Winthrop building. Contributed photo

“We came in around 8:30 on Saturday morning and the building smelled like heating oil,” said Fortin. “We went into the furnace room and basically found that the oil filters and oil lines were encased in ice. There’s a fresh air vent in that room, and that extreme cold just came in and froze those lines.”

He said this caused the oil’s consistency to resemble sludge or mud, so it was not able to get through the lines. This backed up the system and caused a major oil leak.

“The entire boiler was basically encapsulated with oil,” said Fortin. “It leaked through the cast iron. And the nozzle was spraying oil into the room.”

The library’s HVAC company, W.H. Demmons, and the Winthrop Fire Department were on the scene within the hour, and helped prevent an even worse situation. “Our HVAC guy took the chamber outside into the snow and it caught fire,” said Fortin. “So it could have been a lot worse.”


He said that both the technician and Winthrop Fire Chief Dan Brooks said this was among the worst oil leaks they’ve seen in decades. Brooks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A sign on the front door of the Bailey Public Library on Wednesday tells visitors to the Winthrop building it is closed. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

From there, Fortin said their next step was to immediately close the library to ensure patrons aren’t exposed to harmful heating oil odors and fumes.

He said the building is divided into two parts — the new addition, and the historic side. The historic side, according to Fortin, is “basically uninhabitable,” and the entire children’s room smells like gasoline.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection conducted an air quality test and determined Wednesday the harmful materials in the air had dissipated enough that the library is safe.

With this information, Fortin said he hopes to reopen the library in a limited capacity Monday; however, the historic portion of the building would still be sealed off.

“Even though the DEP determined it’s not going to cause long-term damage, the odors are still going to make it very unpleasant,” he said.


Because the children’s area was in the historic section, Fortin said staff will to reorganize the facility so those programs could be hosted in the new part of the building. They won’t move all 15,000 books in the children’s section, but the director said they do plan on setting up book displays with a smaller selection in the meantime.

He said it may take months to get rid of the fumes in the historic building, but that they are not going to reopen that area of the building while the odor is so strong.

“We’re kind of in a lucky position that, really, the library is two buildings joined together by a lobby,” he said. “We’re in a good spot where we can cram into one of them and do at least a part-time operation.”

He said the library will have an announcement at the end of the week with more specific plans.

Town Council Chairperson Sarah Fuller commended library staff for their proactive approach to fixing the issue at the library, which is insured.

“They’re trying to jump on it as quickly as possible and look at what needs to be done,” she said, “because they recognize what a vital resource the library is.”

Officials say it’s unclear how much repairs will cost, and it may take months to know for sure. Fortin said replacing the furnace itself is “an absolute last resort,” and that they’re currently exploring repairs. The furnace was purchased new in 2015. Fortin said he does not have the exact price of the furnace, as it was a small part of a larger renovation project.

Jeff Bilodeau, service manager from W.H. Demmons, photographs a valve on the heating unit Wednesday at the Bailey Public Library in Winthrop, following a malfunction there that led to the building’s closure. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

And until the library reopens at full capacity, Fortin said people can still get most of their needs met through the mobile app and website.

“There’s a lot of things you can do with your library card,” he said. “We’ve got e-books, we’ve got audio books, and you can watch movies with your library cards. So hopefully folks can tap into that until we can get opened up.”

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