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During cold weather in December, a pipe in the ceiling of the empty Inchicore library on Emmet Road burst, causing the ceiling to fall in, said Bruce Phillips, the council’s South Central Area manager, at a council meeting on Wednesday.
Asbestos may have been exposed, he said. If so, that means calling in experts to remove it, and extra money for interim works, Phillips said.
Repairs will take some time, longer than a few weeks, he said. “That’s an additional problem that we have to deal with now that we didn’t have.”
It came just as a local group was hoping to get in to look at the art-deco council building to check it was being cared for, after years of it being left empty amid changing plans.
The local advisory group had been expecting to hold a meeting inside about now, says Lauren Tuite, a member of the group.
“So we can say for sure whether there are people going in, turning on the lights, turning on the heating, making sure the pipes aren’t bursting because it’s too cold,” she says.
“Because of the particular climate that we have, buildings go derelict very quickly when they’re not used,” said Tuite.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to a query sent Tuesday afternoon as to whether it had neglected the building, and this was behind the burst pipe and damage.
In January 2020, councillors voted through plans to refurbish the Inchicore library building.
The works included maintenance and landscaping, new public spaces inside and out, adding toilet facilities and making the library universally accessible.
The plan was for the building to reopen as a library, at least until the new library in a giant development down the road at St Michael’s Estate is built.
But a council spokesperson said in March last year that Covid-related delays to the project, and construction inflation, meant it was reconsidering the building’s future use.
In September, a group of 42 local residents and councillors came together to form an advisory group, as a subcommittee of the Kilmainham Inchicore Heritage Group, says Michael O’Flanagan, the heritage group’s secretary.
The idea was to supervise the upkeep of the building and to gather to decide what it could be used for next, Tuite says.
“I’m very upset about what’s happened,” says Tuite. To protect the heritage building from damage is one reason the group was formed, she says.
“We’ve always been dealing with sites that have been left to go derelict for such a long time,” she says. “The projects end up being multi-mulit-million projects that go on for a really long time.”
“I guess it’s not surprising,” she says. “We’ve been warning the council about this for some time now.”
The damage is a massive setback, said Darragh Moriarty, a Labour Party councillor who also sits on the advisory group, at the area council meeting.
It was a massive source of frustration at the recent advisory group meeting, he said. “Because that’s what happens when you leave old buildings like this, empty, when they don’t have people on a daily basis looking after them.”
The council has made some repairs to the building’s roof, fixed the burst pipe, cleaned up the outside grounds and fixed the smoke and intruder alarms, said Cathy Cassidy, a senior staff officer in the property management section of the council, in a written response to a motion from councillors.
The building is drying out, she said. It needs a full inspection though to see how much it will cost to repair all the damage, she said.
At the South Central Area Committee meeting on Wednesday, Phillips said he hoped the council has the funds to fix the damage. “And that there would not be any kind of nasty surprises or unexpected pieces of work.”
There’s a silver lining to the damage, said Moriarty, the Labour councillor. “This might give everybody a kick up the backside really to try and get on quickly.”
Last March, once council officials had dropped the idea of reopening it as a library, a council spokesperson said that they were looking at using the old art deco building for “community services”.
But what exactly it is to be used for is still to be determined.
The council’s planning application for the big development at St Michael’s Estate, not far off on Emmett Road – where the council hopes to build hundreds of social and cost-rental homes alongside a supermarket and library – included an audit of community and social infrastructure in the neighbourhood.
The council plans to use this document to figure out what the old library building should host, says Moriarty.
“We do have a really big piece of work there, of different community and arts spaces in the Kilmainham-Inchicore area, so that we can find a complementary use for the [old] Inchicore library building,” said Moriarty at the meeting.
Michael O’Flanagan, secretary of the advisory group, says he would like to see the building given over to artists in the area, and opened up as a hive of community activity for locals.
“The main thing, from the point of view of our group, is to make sure that the local community continues to have access to the library and it’s not handed over to people outside the local area,” he says.
A poll of the 42 members of the advisory group showed 28 were in favour of it being an arts, heritage and general exhibition centre, 6 were in favour of it returning to a library, and 8 were in favour of the building being managed by the council with full access for the local community.
Tuite said she was happy with the original plans to keep it as a library. “I feel like people were treating it as almost like, a very indulgent thing to have two libraries, but like, why not?”
The old Inchicore library, which is nearly in Kilmainham really, is about 500 metres from the St Michael’s Estate site closer to Inchicore village centre, which is due to host a new library at some point in the future.
More people understand how to use libraries than arts spaces, Tuite says. And it can still be used as an arts space, she says.
“Maybe the space that we’re thinking of is a library without books,” says Tuite. “The library worked well. People had readings and people showed art and people unveiled statues.”
There hasn’t been any decisions on how the steep front steps of the old library building would be made accessible, says O’Flanagan.
The advisory group has drawn up its own idea for an accessible lift at the west wall of the library, rather than a long ramp scaling the front.
At the meeting, Phillips highlighted that past proposals to make the building accessible had proven expensive. “And that’s still the case and the costs are rising all the time.”
Sophie Nicoullaud, an independent councillor, says she has an issue with hearing that universal access is expensive. “I think that it’s just something we have to do.”
CORRECTION: This article was updated on 25 January 2023 at 18.22 to reflect that the old library building is located on Emmet Road.