LONG BEACH — The city's main library will remain closed through Sunday while officials work to dry an area damaged by water--a "Niagara Falls" that threatened to destroy thousands of books.
Vandals first broke the sprinkling system atop the library's roof--which serves as a park--on Friday; they struck again on Saturday.
The second time, water gushed out "just like Niagara Falls," library Director Cordelia Howard said. It did not directly damage the books but officials are working around the clock to dry out the library so that books will not mildew, Howard said.
The latest attacks of vandalism have raised fresh concerns about security around the library and Civic Center area at Ocean Boulevard and Pacific Avenue.
"If people can't feel secure in the Civic Center, then we have a problem," Councilman Ray Grabinski said at a council meeting Tuesday.
The incidents also have spurred discussions about Lincoln Park, which is atop the library. City officials this week suggested that the area might serve a more useful purpose as something other than a park.
Howard said it recently has become a favorite spot for vandals, who have dotted the grassy area with broken bottles, sprayed graffiti and, more recently, broken the garden sprinkling system.
"I would dearly love to see something positive being done with the park," Howard said.
During the council meeting, Councilwoman Jan Hall suggested an idea bandied about in recent years: building a restaurant on the site. A day-care center has also been suggested there, Howard said.
City Manager James Hankla said he will return to the council with a series of alternative uses and a report on the area's security, probably within a month.
"The park isn't heavily used," Councilman Clarence Smith said, adding he is worried that this may not be the end of the vandalism.
"I have concerns that if it happened before, it can happen again," Smith said.
Police arrested two suspects in another vandalism case at the library, but as of Wednesday had not yet linked them to last weekend's incidents, which will cost the city at least $15,000, Howard said.
That tab may run higher, however, with overtime and equipment rental costs, Howard said. Library officials have consulted with book-preservation specialists and determined that the carpet tile need not be removed, but the books on a lower level must be monitored daily. The temperature inside the library has been kept below 60 degrees to lower humidity.
During the cleanup, the library and its roof are under a 24-hour watch, Howard said. On typical days, the library has unarmed security guards through the night but they do not normally patrol the park above unless they hear noise, she said.
Howard said she would welcome another use for the park, which despite its benches, trees and flowers, "is not used the way a park should be used."
"Gradually, it has been taken over by a series of unsavory elements," Howard said. "It's a gathering place for troublemakers."
While the cleanup continues, library patrons can return books to the front door of the main library or at any branch library.