STOCKBRIDGE -- The long-anticipated renovation of the 150-year-old Stockbridge Library, Museum & Archives is officially underway.
Nearly 90 residents, dignitaries and passers-by gathered under a tent on an unseasonably cool Friday morning to officially break ground on the $3 million project.
The capital campaign was initiated in late November 2013 and is more than halfway to its goal, according to Lenore Sundberg, past president of the Stockbridge Library Association, who co-chairs the campaign with former Stockbridge Police Chief Rick Wilcox.
"But with this event, we hope to really build momentum with the campaign and draw attention to the project," Sundberg said.
"Overall people have been very supportive. They love their library and are very protective of it and its history. It’s part of Norman Rockwell’s Main Street," said library director Katherine "Katie" O’Neil, referring to the building’s presence as a bookend in the iconic 1967 Rockwell painting, "Home for Christmas (Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas)."
She said library regulars have been finding their way to the library’s temporary home, located at the Stockbridge Station at 2 Depot St.
Renovations will now begin, and the Stockbridge Library, Museum & Archives will reopen in the summer of 2015 as a 21st century library and museum with an additional 2,437 square feet of expanded space and functionality, universal accessibility, and updated technology.
Nancy Hahn, a longtime South County resident, librarian, and retired director of the Bushnell-Sage Library in Sheffield, said the project was particularly symbolic and meaningful for the region.
"People really love libraries. Whether in rural or urban areas, people still read, and want to know things," said Hahn, who helped facilitate early meetings for the Stockbridge Library Association’s 2012-17 strategic plan.
Sundberg cited a 2013 federal report indicating that visits to public libraries in the United States have increased nearly 38 percent over a nine-year period, and 50 percent in Massachusetts over a 10-year span.
"Things can never stay the way they were," said John Hyson, chairman for the Stockbridge Library Association’s board of trustees.
He said the association and trustees are responsible for maintaining the vitality of the library, which serves as both a scholarly and social hub for the town.
And though this renovation will bring reconfigurations of space and stacks, new technology and accessible facilities, the historic facade will remain the same.
"In making changes, we cannot and will not change the face of the building," Hyson said.
Friday’s ceremonies also included remarks from Nancy Fitzpatrick, owner and president of the Red Lion Inn, who serves as honorary co-chairwoman of the capital campaign with her sister and Blantyre owner, Ann Fitzpatrick Brown; Barbara Allen, curator of the museum and archives; state Sen. Benjamin Downing; state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli; Daniel Johnson, an aide to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, and Stockbridge Selectman Steve Shatz. Hyson also read a statement from Gov. Deval Patrick, who recognized the library and an integral part of history and to the function of the community.
Allen, who noted the library was home to the county’s first printing press, 504 copies of books by Stockbridge authors, and one of the largest archives of area Native American history, said the renovation will help to "preserve the Stockbridge spirit and save it for future generations."
That spirit was on display during the event, which included live music by local musicians John Sauer and Jeff Stevens, refreshments crafted by the Red Lion Inn, and signature potted pink geraniums from the greenhouse of the late Jane Fitzpatrick, a longtime champion of the library.
Former curator Polly Pierce (1968-1998) and former director Rosie Schneyer (retired in 2011 after 38 years of library involvement) also were in the audience.
"As a child, the library was really a refuge for me ... a source of wonder," Nancy Fitzpatrick said. "I knew it was something special back then and I still know now that it’s the soul of our town."
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