GARDINER — The Gardiner Public Library officially celebrated the completion of interior renovations at an event Friday night.

Anne Davis, the library’s director, said the renovations began in 2000 and continued through last year at a total cost of more than $800,000. The project included changes to the back entrance, the Children’s Room, windows, main floor and stage curtain.

“We lived in a construction zone for about 15 years, so that’s why we’re partying,” Davis said. “We had a long-range plan, and we were able to take one piece one year and fundraise for it, and we carved it up like that.”

According to Davis, the most recent renovations to the Community Archives Room cost about $144,000. The library raised $122,000 in grant money from four foundations and private donations that helped fund the project, which began in 2014 and was completed last year.

Renovations to the archive room included a new heating, air conditioning and ventilation system, a tiled floor and LED lighting.

Special collections librarian and archivist Dawn Thistle said the improvements to the archives room will help preserve Gardiner’s rich history.

“This space and all the furnishings are state-of-the-art,” Thistle said. “We have LED lights that won’t damage artifacts or overexpose photographs. We had a mold problem, and now, people who couldn’t work down here can now come down.”

At the event, where more than 100 people enjoyed snacks, live music and historical conversation, Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett and library officials dedicated the new space. Kirk Mohney, director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, also gave a brief history of the 135-year-old library, which was built in 1881, and he said the persistence everyone has shown should be lauded.

Harnett echoed the thoughts of Davis and Thistle about the importance of preserving the city’s history.

“The finished product is amazing, and it really allows us to treat our historical documents in a manor in which we know they’re going to be preserved and here for generations,” Harnett said.

Davis said keeping the library relevant in the age of e-books and other technological advances is important, and Harnett said the improvements to the facility will help teach the history of Gardiner to the city’s youth.

“Now we have the opportunity for students to come in and see what Gardiner was like 50 and 100 and 200 years ago,” he said. “It’s been such a wonderful private partnership.”

The building is owned by the Gardiner Library Association, which receives no government assistance to keep the library going. President Dennis Doiron said now that the interior renovations have been completed, the association can turn its focus to planning and fundraising to improve the building’s exterior.

“(The interior project) came out looking so nice, so now we can complete the rest of the building,” Doiron said. “We’re estimating the cost to be between $500,000 to $1 million, and we have full expectations that we can get it done without going to the city or towns for any financial help.”

Throughout the evening, officials and community members spoke about how important a library is to the community. Harnett talked about his first job in a library 45 years ago, and Davis said that libraries change lives every day.

Brian Kent, a native of South Africa who moved to Litchfield 43 years ago, said he and his wife used to come to the library when they were living in an unheated hut with little power.

“We always came to the library and became members in 1974, and we’ve been coming over since,” Kent said. “It’s changed, but it’s the people (who work in the library) that become friends, and it’s a wonderful resource.”

Harnett agreed that its the employees and volunteers, who contributed about 1,700 hours last year, who make the library a special place for Gardiner and the community it serves.

“A community without a library ceases to be a community,” Harnett said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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