Wheeler Library seeks donors for renovation

North Stonington - In the hopes of matching a $140,000 grant awarded last month by the Connecticut State Library Board, the Wheeler Library Board of Trustees will look to the community to help cover the cost of renovating the 113-year-old building's historic windows.

Founded with a 1,000-volume collection by the Wheeler family in 1900, the library originally served as a secondary school with a public library on the top floor, and remained in use by the town's schools as late as the 1970s.

Now, with a collection of 30,000 volumes, the library remains a private institution - a status that library Director Amy Kennedy said keeps the library's operations insulated from the municipal budget cycle. The town provides only an annual stipend that covers 18 percent of Wheeler's $160,000 annual operating budget.

As a result, the library is heavily reliant on the generosity of its patrons. Wheeler has ramped up its programming and event offerings in the past few years both to raise money throughout the year and to burnish its use as a community center.

"It's a town treasure," Kennedy said.

But refurbishing the building's 28 historic, fan-topped, Romanesque-style windows - most dazzling on the second floor at 12 feet tall - is an expensive undertaking that the whole of the library's typical budget would not cover. In order to receive the full $140,000 grant, $140,000 more in donations must be made by the end of the year.

This is not the first time the library has turned to the community for help: Two years ago, when its staff was down to using buckets to catch water from a leaky roof that had been in need of repair for years, Wheeler received about $75,000 in donations to cover the cost. The town provided the remainder of the funding for the $100,000 project, which was completed in November 2011.

Though there are other maintenance needs and upgrades the library has been chipping away at - interior painting, floor refinishing, the addition of two bathrooms and new lighting - the historic windows are the first priority.

Kennedy said along with returning programs - like the second annual country store sale May 17 featuring locally grown and crafted products - the Board of Trustees will be launching a capital campaign in the spring. They are confident they can match the grant in time, Kennedy said.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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