ROCKAWAY BEACH — A library damaged by Hurricane Sandy is ready to open a new chapter after a series of extensive renovations and a collection of new books and programs to help a community still recovering from the storm.
The Seaside Library in Rockaway Park will officially reopen on Monday, Oct. 28, nearly a year after the historic storm filled the small building with saltwater and sand, leaving the building with damage of up to $1.2 million — including the loss of $500,000 in books.
After the storm, which forced three libraries on the peninsula to close, the Queens Library opened temporary trailers outside some buildings so residents could still take out books.
The Seaside Library is the first Sandy-damaged library to fully reopen after the storm.
The library in Arverne is expected to reopen in December, and the Peninsula branch in Rockaway Beach should reopen by next spring, according to a Queens Library spokeswoman.
Volunteers and library employees at Seaside have been working for weeks to restock the shelves with pallets of new books, senior librarian Kacper Jarecki said.
Jarecki and other librarians from that branch were shuffled around to other branches around Queens as their building underwent repairs.
Roy Berg, 58, another senior librarian, spent most of the year at the Howard Beach branch.
While he stocked the non-fiction section at Seaside with biographies on a recent afternoon his mind was on the periodicals. It will take a few months to build back their magazine collection, he said, since everything that survived the storm is now out of date.
And while he always knew his audience well, Berg said he's not sure who will return.
"You get to know what the school assignments are. You get to know what people like," he said. "Now, I'm unsure of who's back and who's never coming back. The shelves are stocked as best as they can."
Jarecki, 32, spent most of the year in a temporary trailer outside the Peninsula Library in Rockaway Beach.
While he was happy to remain close to his usual location, even seeing some of the same people he'd seen at Seaside, the small trailer was constricting, he said. He started up a Ping Pong club weeks before the hurricane, and is excited to bring it back.
"It's nice to be able to do programs again because at the trailer we were very limited with space," he said.
Some of the new programs at the library are reflective of the new reality of a community so severely impacted by the storm.
Project Hope will hold group sessions with adults and children still dealing with the emotional effects of the storm, Jarecki said.
And the Queens Memory Project will also conduct programs so residents can share their photos and stories from the hurricane.
Julian Messiah, 40, is the branch's custodian and spent the last year traveling around different branches as an extra hand. He also volunteered in Rockaway after the storm, and said he's happy to be back "home."
"It was a mess but these people are very strong over here," he said. "It was hard work but they did it. Look at it now compared to Sandy."
The Seaside Library officially reopens on Oct. 28, and there will be a free community celebration Sunday, Oct. 27 from 3-5 p.m.