WINTHROP — A plan that was years in the making, or maybe even decades, began to unfold Monday during the official groundbreaking for the expansion of the Charles M. Bailey Library.

“We’ve been working for years on this,” Mary Jane Auns, chairman of the library trustees, said to approximately 30 library and town officials and others who gathered for the afternoon ceremony. “We’re excited we’re finally breaking ground.”

Winthrop-based S.J. Wood Construction company submitted the winning bid of $945,000 for the approximately 5,100-square-foot expansion. Dale Glidden, chairman of the expansion steering committee, said the final bid is about $20,000 more than budgeted. He said there are likely savings to be found in the construction itself and that fundraising will continue to help make up the gap.

“We’re going to continue to raise dollars as we need to,” Glidden said.

The construction is expected to be completed within six months. The plan is to have the outside of the building finished before winter.

“We’re starting two weeks earlier than we had anticipated,” Glidden said.

The former Masonic hall, which was next to the library, was torn down in April to make room for the expansion. The steering committee has one year to build the foundation in the hall’s footprint, which did not conform to town codes. If the construction is delayed beyond a year, the grandfather provision would expire and the committee would lose the ability to build on the site.

The two-story addition, which includes a daylight basement on two sides, will more than double the size of the existing library from 3,300 square feet to 8,400. The existing building will be retrofitted with new heating and ventilation systems, architect Philip Locashio said last month. The addition, while similar in tint and texture to the existing stone building, will not be identical. The existing library was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Registry officials prefer to see additions to such buildings stand out from the original structures, Locashio said.

The addition will be squeezed in among the street on the front, the existing library and the town’s utility building on the sides, and a garage in the back.

The main entrance will move from the current location, which are steps leading up to the door, to a ground-level ell that connects the existing building and the addition. The change will make the building much more accessible to those who are disabled, Library Director Richard Fortin said last month. The wheelchair entrance now consists of a freight lift at the back of the building.

There will be an interior lift in the new foyer next to the steps for those who use wheelchairs.

The current library is packed tightly with shelves, which in spots make it difficult to navigate between stacks. Fortin said every inch of that shelving is necessary to hold the library’s collection of books. Unable to expand outward, library officials have instead gone up to create more shelf space. Consequently, the top row of books is more than 6 feet above the floor, making it nearly impossible for everybody to see them.

“If you add anything, you have to take something out,” Fortin said last month. “We can’t add to our collection.”

The addition will not only allow room to grow, it also will allow the library to lower stacks to make all the books visible without a stool, which will save considerable time. He said the library circulates about 5,000 books per month. That number jumps to about 6,000 during the summer.

The main floors will feature an open design to allow the stacks, computer terminals and furniture to be re-arranged.

The children’s area will be moved from the basement, where there are problems with humidity and flooding, to the main floor, Fortin said. The basement will continue to be used as a place for community gatherings.

The addition’s bottom floor will feature an event room with seating for about 125 people. The library has regular programs for adults and children, which is difficult in the existing space.

Kevin Cookson, chairman of the town council, said the library will be better able to host programs, which serves the town’s desire to bring more people to the downtown.

“The space is so small now a lot of people don’t attend the shows,” Cookson said. “I think it’s a significant day. It’s been a long time coming.”

The cramped quarters have posed a challenge for years and the process of providing relief has been years in the making. The steering committee was formed about six years ago and fundraising started about three years later and has raised more than $800,000 since.

“This is a huge milestone,” Glidden said of the groundbreaking. “This is a day I wasn’t sure was going to happen for a while.”

Fortin, looking around at some of the library friends who gathered for the ceremony, said some of those who attended have been hoping for an addition for more than 30 years. Fortin said the groundbreaking is particularly gratifying for them.

“It’s nice to see it happen,” he said.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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