Odor Causes Extended Closure At New Mashpee Library
By: Brian Kehrl
The new Mashpee Public Library closed, opened, and closed again this week due to issues with the building’s ventilation system and a horrible smell emanating from the first floor foyer.
The library was closed to the public from last Thursday until Monday to fix a mechanical problem with the air conditioning system that apparently caused high moisture in the throughout the building. It was reopened Monday through Wednesday of this week, but after contractors could not rid the circulation desk area of a pungent odor, they closed it again yesterday and it remained closed through the day. Catherine A. Laurent, director of the Mashpee Department of Public Works, said the library will be closed through the weekend as contractors work to identify the source of the smell.
She said the closure may be extended beyond the weekend, depending on what work needs to be done to fix the problem.
Town officials said that the air conditioning drainage problem was quickly fixed during the closure last weekend, but the smell, most noticeable around the circulation desk, hung around through the week. The cause of the smell remained a mystery, making its eradication a challenge.
“[The smell] was pretty offensive,” Ms. Laurent said in an interview on Wednesday. “There’s been an improvement this morning, but we’re still waiting to see.”
On Thursday Ms. Laurent said “de-ionization treatment” to control the smell seemed to improve it so that it was only noticeable in specific spots, rather than the whole circulation desk area, but it was still present.
“The best term that I have heard to describe it—we actually had the county health agent out again yesterday—and she described it as a vomit-like odor. Or like baby vomit, which I guess is a little bit better than regular vomit,” Ms. Laurent said.
Ms. Laurent said the two visits by a representative of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment, first last Thursday and again this past Wednesday, found no air quality health concerns from the odor.
Library Director Helene B. DeFoe did not return a message seeking comment; nor did David F. Burton, chairman of the Mashpee Board of Library Trustees.
The labor to fix the air conditioning system and other work on the building, which opened to the public in April, is covered under a warranty for the building that lasts a year after the opening, Ms. Laurent said. The general contractor, BuffTree building, has assumed responsibility for fixing the problem, she said.
According to a summary explanation of the issue provided to the town by the project manager, the issue began when the heating system was turned off and the air conditioning turned on in mid-May.
“Initially, minor condensation from ceiling diffusers was noticed in different areas of the library. A slight, unusual smell was also noticed,” according to the narrative.
A significant leak was noticed on May 26, two weeks ago.
“To summarize the issue, there was a programming fault with the system which resulted in an excess amount of humidity in the building. Additionally, the system could not handle the amount of condensation generated because of the programming fault. This fault has been corrected and the humidity levels have returned to normal,” according to the document. “The next step will be identification of the source to prevent similar occurrences in the future. All ductwork, furniture, carpeting, and other potential sources will be investigated.”
Ms. Laurent said yesterday afternoon that the contractors believe the cause of the odor may be butyric acid in the air ducts.
Butyric acid is a product of fermentation that is found in vomit.
“It was just a combination of humidity interacting with something, and it is that something that we have to find. It is butyric acid that is creating that odor,” Ms. Laurent said. “There aren't any health impacts. It basically can cause an irritation in people that are sensitive to it.”
Town Manager Joyce M. Mason told the Mashpee Board of Selectmen on Monday night that residents have expressed concerns about the closure and the staff-shortage in the new building.
“We want everyone to know that this is not due to the staffing,” said Theresa M. Cook, chairman of the board of selectmen.
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