Historic Stockbridge library to undergo extensive renovation


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STOCKBRIDGE -- The town's historic Main Street library, opened in 1864, will undergo its most extensive renovation project since 1937, when a new wing and the lobby were added to the original building.

One-third of the $3 million capital campaign goal already has been raised through private donations, including a $250,000 lead gift from the Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick Trust.

Construction is set to begin at the end of August and be completed in 10 to 12 months, Library Director Katie O'Neil told The Eagle this week.

During that time, a mini-library to preserve essential services, including high-speed public Internet access, will operate at the Stockbridge Train Station, which is leased by the Berkshire Scenic Railway from the Fitzpatrick Companies' High Meadow Foundation.

The mini-library will offer the newest books, DVDs, audio books and periodicals, O'Neil said. Patrons will be able to order and return material through the statewide C/W Mars network. Part of the library's museum collection will be housed temporarily at Merwin House, operated by Historic New England at 14 Main St.

After the annual mid-July book sale, the main library will close prior to the Aug. 1 launch of the mini-library, said O'Neil, a Lee native who was appointed director in May 2011.

"Our goal is to make the library a better space to serve the community," she pointed out, "so we certainly want to keep serving it while we're under renovation."

A public presentation detailing the project will be offered on Tuesday, April 29, at 6:30 p.m. at the library, 46 Main St.

During construction, much of the library's collection will go into storage off-site, while many of the museum's artifacts will be protected in cordoned-off areas.

Raising another $500,000 privately is a target this summer. The public fundraising campaign begins in September; former Police Chief Richard "Rick" Wilcox, a town native, and 39-year full-time resident Lenore Sundberg, former board president, are co-chairs.

Pledges will be accepted for payment over the next five years. Nancy Fitzpatrick and her sister, Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, are honorary co-chairs.

"Cheerleading is part of the mission," said Wilcox, "reaching out to people we know to make it a communitywide effort to raise money. We now need to work from a broader base of people."

As Wilcox put it, he and Sundberg are "the public face of a very large group of people in Stockbridge who are extremely supportive, very willing to help on many levels, not just with donations. We can only do this as a group effort. It's been very rewarding to be involved."

The library serves as the town's community center, he said.

"It's really nice to come to a program and see tourists, year-round and weekend people, even from neighboring towns, gather and feel comfortable spending time together," he said. The library also serves as a peaceful oasis for people needing respite from stress, Wilcox said.

"The second-home community has been incredibly supportive," Sundberg said. More than two-thirds of the properties in town are occupied by seasonal residents. She noted that library usage by visitors and second-home families with children rises in the summer.

"The library building on Main Street is a key feature of the landscape," she added. "It's a valued service that we all appreciate. If we want to use it, it's here for us."

The Select Board is in the loop on the project plan.

O'Neil emphasized that the renovation will preserve the look of the exterior but will correct building code deficiencies and create universal access to all areas of the building, aided by the installation of an elevator, while expanding the interior by 20 percent through a reconfiguration of existing space.

Accessibility through compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and a drive to raise the public profile of the library's museums and archives, housed on the lower floor, are among the project's major benefits.

A Community Preservation Act grant funded an initial study three years ago of renovation options.

Technological and mechanical system upgrades are included, as well as expanded display and storage for the museum, private study and activity spaces, a multi-purpose room, additional bathrooms, an atrium connecting the main and lower floor, and a revamped rear-entrance.

After completion, the library plans to launch new activities such as film screenings, writing workshops, financial seminars, educational programming, distance learning and book groups.

"People look to the history to feel rooted to the community," Wilcox said, "even if you're a recent resident."

As a child, he recalled spending time in the library's historical room, where his grandmother, Grace Bidwell Wilcox, served as curator from 1938 to 1968, prior to Polly Pierce's three-decade stint.

"There's a thirst for local knowledge and we really want to give the museum and archives their due," said O'Neil.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto Stockbridge Library project in brief

Informational sessions: Tuesday, April 29, 6:30 p.m., at the library, 46 Main St. Also on Saturday, May 17, 11 a.m.

Project leaders: Gary Corey, principal architect and president of Centerline Architects in Bennington, Vt.; Starbuck Smith, a retired architect and head of the library's building committee; Library Director Katie O'Neil; Museum Curator Barbara Allen; library board of directors.

Operations: The Stockbridge Library Association, a private, nonprofit organization, oversees the facility.

Funding: Has $302,500 annual operating budget, with 45 percent from the town and the rest from donations, book sales, a gala and other fundraisers.

Endowment: $1,250,000; 4 to 5 percent annual drawdown for operations.

Collection: 55,000 items, including books, DVDs and audiotapes.

Patronage: 26,500 visitors in 2013, including 3,700 to the museum.

Source: Stockbridge Library Association. Details: stockbridgelibrary.org


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