AUBURN — A library that was once part of one of Auburn's most well-known families' home has been sitting vacant for over 20 years and although plans to save the historic building have been proposed in the past, none have come to fruition. Now, the library that was once home to Thomas Mott Osborne and his family is in danger of being demolished.
The Osborne Library, which was built in 1910 and is located at 3 Fitch Ave., was added to the Auburn Fire Department's vacant building registry in 2017. A large white X on a red background is posted on two of the library's doors, signaling the structure has significant safety concerns. On Jan. 31, the city of Auburn's code enforcement department placed a demolish or repair order on the building, indicating the property owner — the Osborne Center for Social Justice — had 30 days to bring the building up to code, "as is reasonable." However, it is going to take longer than 30 days, and possibly millions of dollars, to restore the building to its former glory.
Structural engineer Joe Kime, of Beardsley Architects and Engineers, said Tuesday during the Auburn Historic Resources Review Board meeting that the biggest problem with the building is that the roof has "completely failed."
In 2014, the building was owned by the Auburn United Methodist Church, who presented plans to the board to stabilize the roof. The church received a grant from the state Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Office in the early 2000s to repair the roof. The board approved the plans, however, no work was ever done on the building.
Kime said the building's concrete roof is being supported by steel beams. Back in 2014, the plan was to "put cribbing on top of those steel beams and then build a new roof on top of that and then entomb the concrete roof deck," Kime said, but, that is no longer possible as a large section of the roof has since collapsed.
"Once you lose the roof, you're off to the races," Kime said. "It exponentially deteriorates from there, although the building has (held up) phenomenally for its age and neglect. It's really an incredible structure."
Additionally, Kime said water has gotten into the walls of the brick structure. In order to salvage the building now, the roof deck would need to be removed, which he said would be complicated and expensive.
"You can feasibly save almost anything, but you need resources and money," Kime said. "I'm not saying it's a complete write off, but it's headed in the wrong direction rapidly right now."
The church sold the 2,700 square-foot library in September 2015 to the social justice center for $11, according to Cayuga County Real Property Records. According to its website, the social justice center does have plans to rehabilitate the structure and use it as an educational facility where people can learn more about Auburn's role in the prison reform and women's rights movements.
Director of Capital Projects and Grants Christina Selvek said the city has not received any communication from the property owner James Loperfido, who is the social justice center's chair, since issuing the demolish or repair order. Board member Ed Onori said he spoke with Loperfido, who claims he never received notice of the demolish or repair order.
Multiple board members said they hope to see the building restored, but acknowledged it will be an expensive and difficult endeavor.
"This isn't just some old building," board member Linda Frank said. "This is a truly historic building and I would hate to see it (be demolished)."
Selvek said the city will send Loperfido another notice and work with him to develop a plan to restore the building before the city takes action to have the building demolished. She said she will reach out to the owner and encourage him to come to the next board meeting to discuss any plans.