AUBURN — Copper is a durable building material with a chemical constitution that survives weather that causes other metals to rust.
But it doesn't stand up to repeated batterings from chunks of ice falling off pitched slate roofs — and that's a problem for the Auburn Public Library.
Time and damage have punched holes in 12 of the library's distinctive rooftop decorations — copper finials that were installed when the library was built in 1904.
The library has begun a fundraising campaign to have the finials fixed by patching them up with sturdier pieces of copper.
"Copper is great metal because it looks beautiful as it ages, and you get that patina," said Jim Wilkins, development director at the library. "It's quite durable. Think about it. They are over 100 years old, and in most places, there are no thin spots. It's really held up well."
The library was finished in 1904, with the copper finials in place. Wilkins said he thinks ice sliding off the slate roof damaged some of the structures. They were patched with tin in the 1960s.
"The repairs were done where people couldn't see, in the back side along the roof," Wilkins said. "And one thing about tin, it rusts."
The tin rusted away in places, leaving holes. Once the tin began rusting, birds discovered the holes and made them bigger. Rain began collecting in the wider holes.
"And the structure the finials are on is like a chimney," Wilkins said. "It just funneled the water down."
Wilkins said people last summer began noticing leaks in parts of the roof. Damage to the finials was discovered by Auburn mason and roofing contractor Chuck St. Hilaire. Wilkins said St. Hilaire has agreed to repair them.
"When they built it, the artists were amazing," Wilkins said. "The copper was very thin, and you can't get copper that thin today unless you are in a specialty shop. The repairs now are difficult because he has to bend the thicker metal to maintain the integrity and the shape of the finial without leaving an obnoxious bump on the backside."
The work costs about $600 per finial, and Wilkins said he has enough money to repair half of them.
Two of the finials — one repaired and one with a bird's nest inside — are on display in the lobby of Auburn Hall.
"We wanted people to see what we're talking about," Wilkins said.