Palmer to set up interim library after roof collapse

The roof on the Palmer Public Library partially collapsed on Feb. 15, 2023. (Courtesy PND Engineers)

Residents of Palmer have rallied to support the Palmer Public Library since the building suffered a partial roof collapse on Feb. 15.

Last week, Palmer City Manager John Moosey announced at a Palmer City Council meeting that a temporary “storefront” to check out library books and materials will be available at 137 East Arctic Ave. in Palmer, in the building that was the previous home to Great Northern Engineering. 

“I am expecting about a month to get it set up,” Moosey said in an email. 

Since the weight of heavy snow-loads contributed to the collapse of the lower portion of the roof — while a few people were still inside the building — library lovers have converged on opportunities to donate. The Friends of the Palmer Public Library are an organization that primarily provides fundraising and event support, and hosted the Mat-Su Orchestra for a benefit concert at the Palmer Train Depot on Feb. 19, which had been scheduled prior to the roof collapse. The concert was attended by nearly 200 people. 

“I saw in that moment that our community really loves our library and wanted to make things right right away,” said Rachel House, president of Friends of the Palmer Public Library. 

House began frequenting the Palmer library 14 years ago and joined the Friends about five years ago. The Friends have recently begun hosting Saturday story time for children, inviting local Palmer police officers and firefighters to share their favorite books.

“So many people will walk through the door because they know it’s open to them — there’s no expectation that they have to pull out their wallet and have anything else besides a library card,” House said. “It doesn’t matter what your walk of life is, this is your space. It’s a space where we as a small community can come together and be together.”

The roof collapse has caused a slight schedule disruption for the Blair family. Connor Blair is a 13-year-old student at Palmer Junior Middle School who walks to the library three times a week to read before walking to his father Scott’s office in downtown. Since Feb. 15, Connor hasn’t been able to read at the library after school. 

“Whenever I walk home from school I always stop there because it’s warm. I warm up, I might read a little bit, and there’s a lot of books there,” Connor Blair said. “I don’t usually do homework at the library. I just sit down and read.”

Connor read the first book in author Chris Colfer’s three-book “A Tale Of Magic” series while competing in Battle of the Books. He had intended to check out the last book in the series, but then the library’s roof came down and no one has been allowed inside the unsafe structure to check out books.

“Now (Connor’s) basically stopped reading because he wants to finish that before he starts anything else,” Scott Blair said. 

A report published by PND Engineers on Feb. 28 lists a number of likely causes that factored into the roof collapse. The library was constructed to meet code requirements from 1982, which had not accounted for snow drifting.

Snow drifts on the Palmer Public Library roof (Courtesy PND Engineers)

The report recommends shoring posts be installed to hold up the collapsed portion of the roof before anyone attempts to recover books. Moosey, the city manager, said that the city will be seeking architectural services. 

“Whether we repair, rebuild, build new, we need that person on, working with the city,” Moosey said. “It will be quite a bit of input with the city council and the public on this process”  

Once engineers determine the building to be safe, books can be removed and relocated to the interim location on East Arctic Avenue. The temporary library building will cost the city just $6,906 for the year lease. Moosey said that the maximum available insurance payout would be approximately $6.5 million to either repair or replace the building, once further assessments are completed.

In the meantime, House says the Friends’ goal is to increase their membership and support until a safe, permanent building is available to house the library’s books and those who read them.

“It’s going to be a really long journey,” House said. “But we have so much support.”

Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at or 907-550-8487. Read more about Tim here

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