'An urgent priority': Library's $1.5 million project starts to replace 125-year-old roof in Fairfield

FAIRFIELD — Work has begun to replace Pequot Library’s 125-year-old Ludowici terracotta roof.

“This restoration project is long overdue, and the trustees enthusiastically endorsed proceeding with this critical effort despite the current pandemic,” Nelson North, Pequot Library’s Board of Trustees president, said in a news release.

The project comes after a comprehensive conditions assessment plan, which was supported by the State Historic Preservation Office and conducted by architecture firm Pirie Associates, of New Haven, in 2019. The study identified repairing the historic roof as “an urgent priority,” not only to preserve the entire structure, but also to protect the library’s special collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives, the library said.

“It has given us something positive and tangible to look forward to, and the new roof will protect our beautiful Romanesque Revival building for generations to come,” North said. “It is our privilege to be the ones to provide this much-needed care to our historic building.”

Pirie Associates, which is also leading the roof repair project, has worked on other historic renovation projects, including the Amos Bull House and Butler McCook Carriage House, the library said.

The $1.5 million project, entails replacing the Ludowici tiles, the library said, and will be done with both the historical value of the building and the longevity of these materials in mind.

But the roof replacement is not simple.

“The layout of the historic roof is complicated, with four different intersecting shapes, as well as dormers, gables, pyramids, and chimneys functioning to make the exterior watertight,” the library said. “The roof’s original underlayment must also be replaced, along with gutters and flashing.”

Kronenberger and Sons Restoration, a company that specializes in historic building restoration projects, has been contracted to oversee the project, which is expected to be completed in 2021. The firm has restored the Stowe House, Mark Twain House and Center Church in Hartford, Gillette Castle in East Haddam, and the Florence Griswold House in Old Lyme, according to the release.

Pequot Library, a public association library and nonprofit organization, began fundraising for the project last spring.

It receives 20 percent of its annual general operating budget from the town and is responsible for raising the money to cover the remaining operating costs and 100 percent of its capital expenses.

“The outstanding support of the Southport-Fairfield community is so inspiring,” said Stephanie Coakley, the library’s executive director. “Pequot Library’s devoted patrons from near and far have stepped forward with much-needed donations because they love Pequot Library and believe in the importance of preserving one of Fairfield’s iconic historic buildings for years to come. I am honored to be part of this momentous preservation project.”

Individuals and businesses have given to the roof project and nearly two-thirds of the project costs have been raised so far. The Southport Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring unique and historic buildings and property in Southport, and the Connecticut Neighborhood Assistance Act Tax Credit program have also supported the project, according to the release.

The library said it is seeking grant opportunities for other needed capital improvements. It also introduced the “Sponsor-a-Tile” program.

To learn more about the roof restoration project or support the project/Sponsor-a-Tile, visit www.pequotlibrary.org/roof.

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com