SKOWHEGAN — Corrilla Hastings likes to tell the story of a small boy who, after visiting the Skowhegan Free Public Library for the first time with his mother, said he wanted to return for more books.

“He said, ‘Mommy, I want to go to the castle,'” Hastings, chairwoman of the library’s board of trustees, said. “She said ‘What?’ She couldn’t imagine what the castle was. Finally she found out that the castle was this library. Just to know that 100 years from now another little child can come to the castle and find books — which is the most precious thing we can have anyway — that’s one reason why we’re renovating.”

Renovations and restoration of the 1889 public library, which got underway in 2009, got a boost in December with the receipt of a $255,000 grant from the Next Generation Foundation to be used toward installation of an elevator, Hastings and library director Dale Jandreau said Thursday.

The elevator will have five stops from the renovated basement to a mezzanine and the top floor of the library. The lift is part of a major renovation project, which already has cost more than $1 million and is expected to cost another $500,000 before everything is done, they said.

And by everything, Jandreau and Hastings said, they mean just that — everything — from a new roof to new electrical wiring, a heating and cooling system, restored windows, brick facade work, sewer connections, two new furnaces and a fire-safety sprinkler system.

Even the climbing ivy on the outside of the building had to be uprooted and removed because it was eating into the mortar holding the bricks together.

Once completed there will be a genealogy research room and computer room in the renovated basement, a kitchenette for staff, handicap-accessible restrooms, meeting rooms, classrooms and the elevator. The work is coordinated by contractor Stephen Dionne of Dionne and Son Builders, of Skowhegan.

To date, the project is about 65 percent complete, Jandreau said.

“I don’t think the plans are ambitious,” he said. “I think they are forward thinking. The fact being you’ve got a building that hasn’t been repaired in a long time — you’ve got a great structure here built in 1889 — and now we need to put some money into it. It’s forward thinking, the fact being how can you take this library and combine the old and the new together so that people 100 years from now are still coming to this library.”

Next Generation Foundation, a nonprofit, charitable organization founded in Maine in 2000, said in a news release that organizers were impressed with the many strengths of the Skowhegan library and its support staff and volunteers. The group called the library a “stunning brick building that is being carefully and lovingly restored.”

They said the elevator addition will unite all the different spaces while making the building accessible and safe for all.

“We are thrilled to join others in supporting this important project,” the release said.

Hastings said the project is funded through grants, local donations and fundraising. The petition for $97,000 each year from taxation at the annual Town Meeting goes toward operations of the library, not the renovation project, she said.

Among the first grants for the project was $50,000 from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation in 2010. Fundraising began in earnest the year before with a $100,000 donation from Skowhegan Savings Bank. Both the bank and the library were founded by Abner Coburn, a Skowhegan industrialist and philanthropist who served as Maine governor during the Civil War.

The library celebrated its 125th anniversary with a special fundraiser for the project last July.

Former Skowhegan Town Manager Patricia Dickey, chairwoman of the project’s capital campaign, said grants also were received in 2014 from the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust and Plumb Creek Foundation. The fundraising committee chairwoman is Marcia Granville.

Other donations have come from the Davis Family Foundation, the Ladd Foundation, the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust and the Maine Community Foundation.

The $90,000 sprinkler system was installed with the help of a $50,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Jandreau said project work will continue in March, as crews make their way up from the basement. As each step of the project is completed to make way for the installation of the elevator, library organizers have to take a moment to remember they still have to raise more money, he said.

“This money from Next Gen was just a godsend,” Jandreau said. “It was a shot in the arm for us, to say, look — there are other folks out there that see the importance of these renovations and they’re willing to invest that kind of money in this building and in this library and in this community to be able to make it easier for folks to access their own library.”

Hastings agreed, noting that once word got out in 2014 about the Next Generation grant, donations to the library’s annual appeal shot up three times what they were in 2013.

“We think it was because of this shot in the arm that says, ‘Oh, we’re getting somewhere. We’ve done a lot. We’re getting somewhere. We can see it now.'”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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