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Old Lyme Library renovations kick off this week

Old Lyme — After years of discussion and plotting, the Old Lyme Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library finally broke ground on long-planned renovation work Monday that will both update and modernize the library’s interior.

The $3 million-plus project began on Monday in the library’s parking lot — which is being updated to include nine added parking spots — and will move inside the building next week. Officials expect the project to be completed by summer 2020.

Once complete, Library Director Katie Huffman said that renovations will provide library patrons a more open and intuitive library interior for their modern-day needs, reconfiguring its current floorplan to include more meeting and study areas, while also utilizing more natural light from the building’s southern exterior.

The library will stay open during renovations and its collection will still be available to patrons, aside from a two to three month stretch this spring when the library’s main area is renovated and when most of the collection will be put in storage.

Renovations are also not planned to change or harm the building’s original 1898 portion, which will remain as a reading room with some updates such as new carpet, paint and furniture, but still “maintaining the ambiance and the architectural detail of that original 1898 building,” Huffman said.

The current library floor plan hasn’t met patrons’ needs, Huffman said, as the number of annual visitors has risen significantly since 1995, when officials last undertook major renovations, adding a large wing — which now comprises most of the current library — to the 1898 building.

“A decent amount of people have assumed the internet has killed the library and it’s really not true,” Huffman said while speaking to The Day Monday. “It’s definitely shifted some of the things we do. But the core of what we do — connecting people with information — is the same. We are just doing it with different mediums.”

The biggest problem is that the library doesn’t have enough meeting space and study areas, Huffman said, with only one large meeting room and one study room that are almost always booked and have increased in demand over the last two decades, she said.

The Young Adult collections are also within the children’s space, “and that’s bad for everyone,” she said.

“The big kids think they’re in the baby room. The little kids are intimidated by the big kids,” Huffman said. “So we are carving out and creating their own room for them, adjacent to the children’s room.”

Huffman also mentioned that the building’s entrance is not welcoming, or intuitive, either.

“You have to fight to get into this building,” she said. “You come through the doors, then you’re in a hallway, then you go up the stairs and you’re in another hallway. So we are opening things up. When you hit the top of the stairs you will immediately see the library.”

Huffman said the idea to renovate the library was born out of an original need to carry out general updates to the building, including to its boilers, carpers and wall paint, among other examples.

“If we were to be doing all this infrastructure work, it made sense to put the library back into the way it needed to be,” she said. “A need for maintenance combined with some significant cultural changes.”

As part of outlined plans, which were designed by TSKP Studio architectural firm of Hartford over the last year, Huffman said renovations will also include an outdoor stone patio to host theater or live music, as well as various library programming, a space for story time within the children's room, and a separate Young Adult room.

The library's technology area would also be expanded, and the circulation and reference desks would be consolidated to provide one spot for service, avoiding confusion among patrons and adding to library staffing efficiency, Huffman said.

“Renovations are going to stay within the library’s current footprint,“ Huffman said. “But we are just re-configuring, in significant ways, the space inside. All of the changes are driven by the way people use the library and the needs we see that are going unmet.”

The library, which is not a municipal library but does receive more than $325,000 from the town annually for operating expenses, received a $1 million state grant in 2017 for renovations and secured another $1.75 million in town funds, also for the renovation. The town renovation money included $1.25 million from bonding and $500,000 in general fund surplus from the last fiscal year.

The library has also raised just over $1 million in donations to put toward renovation costs, as well as toward the library’s endowment to further “support and maintain the building going forward.”

Huffman said another $240,000 still needs to be raised and that between 50 and 75 donors have already given or promised to give to the library, she said. If $40,000 of that can be raised by Dec. 2, two donors have promised to donate the remaining $200,000.

“It’s been three years in the making, and it’s not all I have done since I’ve started, but it’s been a huge piece of my job since I’ve started. So it’s so exciting and gratifying to finally see all of that work manifest itself in something tangible as opposed to this abstract plan,” Huffman said. “We have a great community and they seem to really understand the value of what we do.”

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at the library 9 a.m. Nov. 21.

More information about the project and how to donate can be found at https://www.thanksphoebe.org/.

m.biekert@theday.com

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