AUGUSTA — As the construction crew renovating and more than doubling the size of Lithgow Public Library reaches the half-way point and the addition takes shape, officials have plans to incorporate pieces of the historic 1896 original structure, both literally and symbolically, into the new.

The original granite block structure still stands, with a new addition taking the place, and then some, of a rectangular addition made to the building in 1979, roughly mirroring the appearance of the original.

The addition’s not-yet-installed roof, too, is expected to match the appearance of the old structure, with hard rubber terra cotta-colored faux slate roofing custom-colored to match the old tiles on the original building.

Inside, the metal end pieces from the original library stacks, each with the name of donors to the original library construction project on them, will be used to decorate the walls of a large meeting room. Also, the wide, grand staircase between the first and second floors will be made of granite salvaged from the demolished 1979 addition.

And a large, ornate stained glass window salvaged from the rounded waiting room of the 1913 former railroad station on Water Street, featuring the Maine motto “Dirigo,” or “I lead,” will be mounted just inside the library’s new main entrance. The window was purchased at auction by Kennebec Savings Bank, and bank officials offered it to be installed in the expanded library.

“One of the neatest things about the project is the way we’re integrating historical pieces into it,” said Elizabeth Pohl, library director, during a recent walk through the construction project.

Some aspects of the old library setup, such as the children’s room in the dark basement, the lack of a dedicated area for teens, and stacks so close together they were inaccessible by people in wheelchairs, won’t be missed, or duplicated.

The new children’s room is now above ground on the first floor, with a story hour reading area with large windows on three sides letting in light.

“Up out of the basement and onto the main floor where they should be,” Pohl said of the move of the youth services area.

One floor up is a dedicated space for teenagers, with books geared to that age range, something absent altogether in the old, cramped library. Pohl said the teen space will allow the library to collaborate with other groups, such as the Augusta Boys and Girls Club for Teens or the YMCA, on programming for teens.

Phil Johnston, hired to serve as owner’s representative on the construction project, who performed a similar role overseeing construction of the Capital Judicial Center, said the work is projected to come in under budget.

And Pohl said construction is “a couple months” ahead of schedule, allowing the library to be ready for occupancy this summer, instead of the previously projected fall opening. That could lead to additional savings because it would allow the library to move out of its leased temporary home at the Ballard Center sooner than expected.

“We’re all excited. That’s great news,” Mayor David Rollins said of the library construction being ahead of schedule.

City Manager William Bridgeo, while joking he didn’t want to jinx the project, said, “I’d say at this point we have sufficient funds to complete the project as designed, with some upgrades that have been suggested along the way, and come out the other end with a little bit of money left over — which I recommend we set aside, because no one can anticipate all the little things that may come along.”

He said if money bonded for the project is left over, it probably would be put toward a bond payment.

City voters last June approved bonding $8 million to renovate and expand the public library. That money will be supplemented by about $2.2 million previously raised privately by Friends of Lithgow Library, with more money expected to come from the group.

Scott Small, treasurer of Friends of Lithgow, told city councilors last week the group plans to donate an additional $350,000 for project, plans to keep raising money and hopes to reach a total donation of $3 million.

Winthrop-based J.F. Scott Construction is the firm contracted to build the addition and restore the older part of the building.

Dan Anctil, the firm’s senior superintendent, said it has been a good project so far.

“The excitement about the building has been really cool,” Anctil said. “It’s nice. For us, you put everything into it and you don’t often see the response we’ve seen here, in the community.”

Pohl said everywhere she goes, people ask about the project and how the library renovation is progressing.

After working with employees and volunteers for years to get the project started, including a failed referendum vote in 2007, Pohl said she cried when she drove down State Street to see the steel framework of the expanded building up for the first time.

She said space in the expanded structure, which includes meeting space and tutoring rooms, “will allow us to do so much more. This community is going to be thrilled when they see it.”

Among the more unusual aspects of the construction was that a portion of the adjacent Pleasant Street was lowered more than a foot as part of the project. Johnston said that will help improve drainage and avoid flooding into the basement, which Pohl said occurred often previously. Being able to lower a street to help a building project is something that could take place because it was a city project, not a privately developed one.

“It’s a city project and the city can look at things holistically,” Johnston said of being able to lower the section of street. “You do what you have to do to make a project work, and improve the neighborhood.”

Stained glass windows from the original library are out for restoration at Stained Glass Express in Manchester.

The windows feature printer’s marks and depictions of Augusta’s history.

Numerous parts of the original part of the building, including columns and fireplaces, are covered up by large pieces of plywood to protect them during the construction project.

Officials hope to put two of the three old fireplaces back into use by converting them to the natural gas hooked up to heat the building.

Johnston said that is still awaiting approval from the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Pohl said if the conversion of the fireplaces in the reading room and main room of the original building is allowed, it will further add to a cozy, reading-friendly atmosphere.

Ward 3 City Councilor Patrick Paradis agreed, noting the fireplaces will reflect the renovation and expansion as a whole.

“I’m particularly excited you’re keeping so much of the historic architecture,” Paradis said to Pohl. “And the fireplace will be connected to burn natural gas, which I think is going to be really nice. The addition is in sync with the original library. It isn’t the box constructed in 1979.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.