MERCED — A trip to the Merced County Library in downtown Merced for 91-year-old Helen Jean Medefind sparked concern and worry about the library's exterior appearance.
"I was just shocked when I saw that," said Medefind, who has lived in Merced for 61 years. "It used to look nice and now it's just dead or close to it."
Medefind said she was referring to the library's landscaping once lush with green plants and shrubbery now replaced by dead or dying ivy and grass.
County officials said the 2100 O St. main branch library has been without a sprinkler system for nearly six months. They said theft and vandalism of metal sprinkler heads are the cause.
"My understanding is that this has been an ongoing problem for some time," said county Librarian Diane Satchwell. "The sprinkler heads were being broken off. The majority of them are gone, if not all of them."
Medefind said she spoke to library staff when she spotted the dead plants Tuesday. She was told that the county can't afford to fix the sprinklers.
Satchwell said county officials are looking for a long-term solution, rather than replacing the sprinklers only to have them stolen or vandalized again.
"If they're going to keep doing it, my philosophy is let's look at the long term and see what our options are," Satchwell said. "We've been working with Public Works and talking about things we can do that are more energy-conscious."
Dana Hertfelder, the Merced County public works director, said the first step is to remove the dead ivy and then to identify alternative solutions.
"It's to the point where it needs to be replaced or we need to look at an alternative type of landscaping that's not so water-intensive," Hertfelder said. "We want to look at some alternatives before we invest in a system that may not be reliable anymore."
Hertfelder said the county library's irrigation system is the original from the 1970s, and the broken sprinkler heads have caused damage to the piping.
Only two may be left
It's unclear how many sprinkler heads have been broken off, but officials estimate there are only two left.
The problem has been recurring over the past few years, so officials said they're looking for the best permanent fix.
"It would be pretty expensive to replace all of them right now," said Mike North, Merced County management analyst. "So we're evaluating different options that will make it so that people can't steal them."
The county's proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-14 allocates about $2.7 million to the library; it was about $2.5 million in 2012-13.
Medefind said she hopes the county will dedicate the money to fix the problem.
"Surely, there's money someplace to take care of the landscaping of the public library," she said. "It's certainly not very nice for newcomers or visitors who are coming to Merced County."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.