by Harry Howard
Kent County Council knew the floor of Bearsted Library was liable to "sudden failure" at least four months before the building was closed, a report has revealed.
KCC temporarily closed the building in April 2017, so renovation work could take place, but was made aware of its precarious condition in a December 2016 report.
The structural condition survey, conducted by engineering firm KMG Partnership, stated the Victorian building – the site of the village school until 1972 – was in a "very poor state of repair", and riddled with dry rot, damp, and fungal spores.
The floor area in the attached Schoolmaster’s house had collapsed because of the dry rot, which spread to the public part of the library.
This made the floor of the main library space – where locals use computers and browse for books – at risk of what the report described as "sudden failure" and "potential collapse".
The report’s authors noted a concern that "heavy bookcases are positioned around the perimeter of the rooms where the joist ends would be most prone to dry rot".
Despite the findings, the council did not close the library until April last year, insisting there was no impending danger to public safety.
A spokesman for KCC said: “The consultants’ report looked at the long-term building safety and quite rightly identified the causation of weak floors; however, it did not recommend immediate closure.
"An inspection was carried out on 10 January 2017 by a Health and Safety Advisor who reported that he had ‘no immediate concerns of the safety of the flooring.
"He noted ‘a couple of springy areas, one as you walk in the main entrance and one around the side of the librarians’ desk.
"The rest of the floor seems firm without any movement.’
"He also concluded that ‘the floor boards seemed in reasonable condition’.
"The rooms at the rear of the library were of a concrete construction and there were no issues there.
"This health and safety inspection specifically looked at behavioural and operational safety and confirmed that the premises were safe to use, bearing in mind the short term of the occupation and the work proposed in the future.
"Sensible management controls were recommended and applied.
"The property was closed as soon as practical, minimising the period of use to ensure service continuity with minimal actual risk.
"It was important to arrange an alternative library provision in the village while the library was closed, as the service is appreciated by many of the residents."