AUGUSTA — George O’Connor, a Lithgow Public Library regular who has been checking out books for more than half a century, was one of the library’s first patrons at its new, temporary location at the Ballard Center on the city’s east side.

O’Connor, 61, sounded relieved when visiting the library Monday, the day it opened at the former home of MaineGeneral Medical Center. The library had been closed for a month as its 65,000 books, CDs, movies and other materials were moved out of the Winthrop Street building in preparation for the library’s 18-month, $11 million expansion.

“I felt kind of lost, actually, when the library was closed in the transition,” O’Connor said. “It almost becomes — I don’t want to say an obsession — but really is a necessary part of daily life in the city.”

O’Connor, who lives in Vassalboro, has another reason to love the library. He met his wife, Jane Perry, there more than 30 years ago when she worked as a librarian.

He said he can’t wait for the library expansion project to be finished next year, “but it will be fine here in the meantime.”

The library and its entire collection will be at the Ballard Center at 6 East Chestnut St. until the project is complete, anticipated to be in October 2016, said Sarah Schultz-Nielsen, assistant library director and youth service librarian.

That project includes demolishing the addition built in 1979 and extensively renovating the historic part of the building built nearly 120 years ago. Augusta residents in June 2014 approved borrowing $8 million for the project.

Schultz-Nielsen said Monday afternoon that foot traffic at the new location was steady but not overwhelming. She expects it will take a little while for people to get in the habit of visiting the library again. The temporary quarters reopened a month after the library closed April 11.

“I imagine we’ll have a period that’s quiet as people are figuring out where we are,” Schultz-Nielsen said. “People will be curious. They’ll want to come and see the space. When we reopen back at the renovated, expanded library, I anticipate a big boom because it will be such a new, great thing.”

The library has resumed its normal hours, and all the regular programs and services will be offered at the new location, she said. Weekly programming is starting this week, and monthly programs, including the summer reading program for kids, will begin in June.

“We’re pretty much doing the same thing we did over at Lithgow,” Schultz-Nielsen said. “It looks different, but we’re still your same old public library.”

The library now has two reference desks, one for adults and one for children, and one circulation desk, a model that will follow the library as it moves back to the Winthrop Street building, she said.

The city is leasing about 20,000 square feet of space in the Ballard Center, 7,900 square feet of which is public space, at an annual rate of $10.50 per square foot, Schultz-Nielsen said. The total leasing cost would be $315,000 if the project takes 18 months as projected.

Unlike the old building, the temporary space in the Ballard Center is all on one floor, where the former hospital’s lab was located. Schultz-Nielsen said when library officials first visited the site a year ago, it was hard to picture the library being there. Since then, walls of offices have been knocked down and the entire room is carpeted.

Pearl Allen, 69, said while visiting the library Monday that she was impressed by the layout and design of the new space. Allen, an Augusta resident, said she typically goes to the library once or twice a week and more in the winter for the library’s collection of books, newspapers, videos and its “wonderful staff.”

However, Allen said she doesn’t like how much the city is spending on the renovation and expansion of the library building. She said she’s careful with her own money and doesn’t understand why the city couldn’t make do with what it had.

Leif Dahlin, director of Augusta’s community services department, was also impressed with the temporary location.

“Isn’t this fantastic, huh? Just terrific,” Dahlin said after walking into the library Monday afternoon.

Dahlin said the city will be adding a sign inside the building’s lobby pointing visitors to the library.

Visitors to the library at the Ballard Center can park on Arsenal Street and enter at the Arsenal Street entrance, where signs will direct them to the elevators leading to the main lobby and library entrance, or visitors can use the building’s main entrance.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @pdkoenig


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