By John Herrick, Boulder Reporting Lab (AP Storyshare)
The city is planning to fully reopen the downtown Boulder Public Library on Monday, Jan. 9, with some notable changes to bathroom access and likely security, city officials said.
The library was closed on Dec. 20 following tests showing contamination for methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant that is often smoked. The Meadows, George Reynolds and North Boulder library branches remain fully open.
City officials said the library was able to reopen after extensive cleaning of carpets, walls and HVAC systems throughout the building, and after new testing confirmed contamination outside the restrooms meets state regulations on methamphetamine cleanup. The bathrooms will remain closed for continued cleaning for several weeks.
“The public restrooms are currently sealed in an airtight environment, being cleaned and some materials removed,” the city said on Jan. 6. New testing will be done before they can reopen.
David Farnan, the city’s director of Library and Arts, told Boulder City Councilmembers last Thursday that the library will have additional security. Farnan said the city will consider hiring guards that are trained in behavioral health to help manage access to bathrooms.
“What we have requested is increased levels of cleaning and increased levels of security. I have been assured that we will have that. And I believe that that is a possible solution,” Farnan told councilmembers.
He said when the bathrooms reopen, they will require a key to access.
Remediation crews have discarded all upholstered furniture in the library. Farnan said anything that was not easily cleaned may be discarded, too. Public computers have been removed for now.
Results from samples collected in bathroom air ducts and furniture on the main floor of the library on Dec. 12, Dec. 20 and Dec. 21 indicate contamination levels exceeded state standards of methamphetamine cleanup, a Dec. 30, 2022 report by QUEST Environmental said. The city hired the environmental consultant, which is based in Greenwood Village, to test for contamination.
The state clean-up standard for methamphetamine contamination is .5 micrograms per 100 square centimeters. Meaning, anything in excess of that must be remediated. In total, 11 of the 99 samples initially collected by QUEST exceeded the standard. The HVAC system was below the standard, but the report recommended a full duct cleaning. City officials have estimated testing and remediation will cost about $125,000.
Bill Hayes, an air quality coordinator for the Boulder County Public Health Department, said if the library is cleaned up to the state standard, it will be “very protective of human health.”
“The reason we have such a low standard — a conservative standard — in Colorado, is that there is not a lot of data. We don’t have answers to all of these questions,” Hayes told city council. “But what we have seen in medical literature is that when people are exposed episodically to low levels of meth contamination, your body is able to process it and excrete it out in your urine in a day or two.”
The city has said there is no indication that any library visitors “face significant health risks.” More studies are needed to understand the impacts of second-hand exposure to methamphetamine smoke. City and county officials said people may experience headaches, nausea, dizziness or fatigue. Children are more vulnerable than adults, they said.
The closure is a symptom of a drug addiction crisis that Boulder, like cities across the country, is ill-equipped to handle. According to the state, 18 people died in Boulder County of a methamphetamine overdose in 2021.
The closure has prompted national media attention and stoked a heated debate around culpability. During the public hearing last week, some Boulder residents urged councilmembers to refrain from punitive measures. Others singled out homeless people, many of whom rely on the city’s few and often locked public restrooms to meet their basic needs.
Deputy City Manager Chris Meschuk said the city’s restrooms on 9th and Canyon, which are often closed due to vandalism, should be open during the remediation of the bathrooms at the library. He said the Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees many of the city’s public restrooms, will be “doing everything they can to keep those bathrooms operational.”
For now, “no decision has been made yet about testing in other public restrooms,” the city said on Friday.
The library has behavioral guidelines that allow staff to deny access to people for up to one year if they violate the rules. Farnan said people who are under the influence of illegal substances are often asked to leave.
“The library is free and open to all. The barriers to entry are few, if any, so long as you do not break any law and you adhere to the library’s behavioral guidelines,” Farnan said.
He said that he is saddened by the smoking incident.
“I have to keep reminding myself of the high road and that 99% of the 2,000 people who walk in there every day are using this library for its intended purpose,” he said. “A small fraction of people have changed the disposition of the library for the immediate future and maybe for a long period of time.”