AUGUSTA — Just like last year, Lithgow Public Library officials are encouraging patrons to stock up ahead of the library’s move — this time back across the Kennebec River to a newly renovated and expanded space.
“I’m taking out as many books as I can,” Denis Thoet said as he read a newspaper at a table in the back corner of the temporary library. “I usually spend part of the morning here about five to six times a week reading newspapers and checking out books.”
The library moved last May into its temporary home at the Ballard Center on East Chestnut Street, and Saturday will be its last day at the site, which is the former MaineGeneral Medical Center.
Library director Elizabeth Pohl anticipates the move will take about a week, with about another three weeks to get everything set up. The library staff expects to return to the Lithgow location at State and Winthrop streets at the end of the month.
“We did this last year and it worked well,” Pohl said. “Being closed a month will be an inconvenience to people, but when they see the new library, they’ll believe that month was worth it.”
After nearly $12 million in renovation and a significant expansion, the library was scheduled to open sometime in the fall, but construction is complete and almost everything is already inside the building, though Pohl is expecting a large delivery of office furniture next week.
“The move from here back to the library will be much easier than when we moved here last year,” Pohl said. “A lot of the stuff here, like shelving and furniture, isn’t going back to the new building.”
Library officials have made sale agreements with other area libraries for some of the library-specific equipment, and there will be a public tag sale Aug. 6 to unload anything people with cash are able to carry, Pohl said.
“Theoretically, if everybody came in and took two books, we’d be all set (to move),” Pohl joked. “We’ve had families coming in with bags and filling them up, since we’re going to be closed nearly a month.”
Lynn Smith, of Augusta, and her daughter, Brooke Ryder, 10, were browsing among the children’s books Thursday morning, looking for “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the fourth book in the popular Potter series. It wasn’t available, so Brooke, described by her mother as an avid reader, found several other fantasy books and an illustrated version of the first Harry Potter book.
“They’ve done a nice job here at the Ballard Center, but we’re very excited about the new library,” Smith said. “The book is a beautiful thing, but I just wish I saw more families and kids at the library.”
The expanded library, Pohl said, will have nearly double the space and new shelving and stacks, new furniture and more space for meetings and community events. She said it’s been done with an eye toward quality, durability and beauty, and though they couldn’t replicate the old building, they wanted to build something that could stand the test of time. The original structure, which was restored, was built in 1896.
“This will be a whole different ballgame because this new place has plenty of room for our collections, it’s (Americans with Disabilities Act)-accessible, there’s a bigger parking lot and there’ll be a lot of comfortable seating,” Pohl said. “It’s going to change the way people use the library.”
Pohl said the previous library was difficult to access, it was often too crowded and there was nowhere to sit. She said it was “not an appealing experience for a lot of people. With the new library, we’re very excited about all of the possibilities.”
People have continued to use the Ballard Center library at nearly the same rate as they had used the other location, across the Kennebec River. Pohl said because the current location is in a building with a pediatrics office and other medical practices, they’ve been attracting new users over the last 14 months.
Pohl said the library has made modest staff additions ahead of the Aug. 15 grand opening, and she is planning to hire a 13th part-time worker, putting the total full- and part-time staff at 18, plus about eight volunteers. Some of the part-time staffers will get more hours to accommodate the anticipated increased traffic, and Pohl admitted further staff additions may be needed down the road.
Thoet, who was familiar with the old library during the 12 years he worked at the Maine State Museum, said the library meets so many other needs besides just checking out books.
“There will always be a need for libraries because they are community institutions that not only have books, but they have meeting space and children’s programs, among other activities,” Thoet said.
Communities such as Bath, Bangor and Rockland, Thoet said, are being led by their libraries and museums, and their downtowns are flourishing.
“The economic development of a city like Augusta is often led by its cultural aspects,” he said.
Portland-based mover Earle W. Noyes and Sons was chosen from among several firms that submitted proposals to handle both the move from the old building to the Ballard Center, and back to the new facility when it’s completed. Pohl said the company is experienced in moving libraries, which helps because none of the library’s staff had been through such a move before last May. Pohl estimated the move to the temporary space and back would cost a little more than $60,000.
The city paid $10.50 per square foot to lease nearly 20,000 square feet in the Ballard Center, or about $252,000 over the 16-month lease, Assistant City Manager Ralph St. Pierre said. Last year, City Manager William Bridgeo expected the total cost of the project to be about $315,000, but the construction was completed about two months ahead of schedule.
Lithgow Public Library will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony and an open house at 10 a.m. Aug. 13, with the grand re-opening to be held two days later.
Jason Pafundi — 621-5663