One year ago, Hurricane Ida hit our community with disastrous results. Much of our core infrastructure and many centers of our community were severely damaged, including the Children’s Room at the Rye Free Reading Room. Like many businesses, homes, and organizations that sit near the Blind Brook, this was not the first time the Library has been impacted by flooding, but this was one of the most damaging we have encountered.
In response, our amazing community rallied in support to help salvage damaged books and materials and begin the months-long clean up. We remain grateful to everyone who, despite dealing with hardships of their own, came to the Library to lend a hand and begin the hard work. We take pride in serving our community, and it was overwhelming to see and feel all of your love and support in return. Thank you!
Once the clean-up was completed and the Children’s Room reopened, we began the work to ensure that this kind of damage and disruption never happens again. In the months following, we have been hard at work planning and preparing for a more sustainable and floodproof future. In the short term, Library Director Chris Shoemaker and his staff have taken initial and immediate steps to better secure the Library and prepare for future floods. These have included:
- Investing in flood proofing: purchasing new absorbent barriers to enhance protection in vulnerable areas when flooding is possible and increasing the number of sandbags on hand to provide a quick deploying solution when flooding is forecasted.
- Updating short-term planning and preparation: moving all the children’s books up one shelf, giving us a foot of clearance from the floor to the bottom of any library material, and updating our emergency procedures to address possible flooding earlier, including moving materials and furniture when there are back-to-back heavy rainstorms.
Along with everyone impacted by Hurricane Ida and other major flood events, we’re paying more attention to the forecast, especially for major storms. In some circumstances, we may put out a call for volunteers to help move around collections. This effort will be disruptive to the Children’s Room operations, but will offer some protection in the near future, while we work toward a long-term, sustainable solution. After any severe storm warning, it may take us a day or two to get everything back into place, and we appreciate your patience in advance.
These initial steps will help to preserve our rooms, secure our materials, and ensure we are better able to clean up more quickly, should the next flood come. However, this is just the start. In order to permanently solve the threat of the Blind Brook flooding, we are thinking bigger and planning for the long term, including planning for updates to the infrastructure and layout of the Library while respecting the beloved historic building. These changes will not only help prevent the damage caused by flooding but also give us an opportunity to re-envision how we can continue to serve the Rye community for decades to come.
Planning for a truly resilient Library required that we bring in expertise in flood mitigation and space planning. To that end, in December 2021, we contracted with Skolnick Architecture + Design and TMS Waterfront Solutions, who have deep expertise in both library design and water-resilient engineering and design, to help analyze our space and provide recommendations for a more sustainable future.
Our work in partnership with these experts began with listening to the community to better understand what you want and need from your library. In January 2022, we held two public forums at the Library, in addition to meetings with specific groups of library patrons and community stakeholders, and solicited feedback from the community via online forums. While we heard your love and enthusiasm for our historic building — as one member of our community put it, “It’s like a second home” — we also heard a call to provide our community the Children’s Room that our families and youngest readers need and deserve.
We’ve now received the first part of a space planning and flood solution report from Skolnick and have started work on an engineering study, to understand what challenges the ground and existing building may present. Our Board of Trustees is reviewing the first report from Skolnick, awaiting the results of the second, and working with stakeholders on possible next steps.
We are very excited about our emerging vision, but it will take some time as we finalize initial planning and designs. We will have more information and public events in the coming months to unveil our new plans and get your feedback, to help ensure the Rye Free Reading Room remains a center for the community to come together, learn, and grow as individuals and as a community.
In the meantime, thank you again for all of your help and support and we look forward to seeing you at the Library soon.
Kathleen Riegelhaupt, President
Rye Free Reading Room Board of Trustees