NORTH BENNINGTON — The John G. McCullough Free Library is getting a special 100th birthday present: a long-planned renovation.
The first phase of an extensive three-phase project aimed at modernizing and expanding the 5,000 square foot building and bringing it into compliance with current building codes is planned to begin this summer, with an expected completion date in mid-October.
The library’s popular book pickup service, which was initiated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will remain in place through the project. Any service changes or disruptions will be announced on the library’s website, social media channels, and its monthly newsletter.
“We’ve broken a large plan up into three parts and scaled back the scope to better fit what we can sustainably manage,” library director Jennie Rozycki said.
The second phase of this project will update furnishings in the children’s room to make it safer, better organized, and more appealing to children and families.
The third and largest phase of this project is an addition along the western side of the building, which will include an elevator to the second floor.
The project is entirely funded by donations, bequests and grants, including a $10,000 Educational Facilities Grant, administered by the Vermont Agency of Administration. Rozycki said the library received donations “specifically for projects like this,” including a $25,000 gift just for the restroom upgrades.
Bathrooms are a major focus of the project. Rozycki said the library has heard for years that they are too small, and are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The project will renovate and expand the restrooms, and water and electrical systems will be upgraded.
“Everybody needs to use them and they need upgrading,” Rozycki said.
A new bathroom on the second floor will have a changing table for families with small children — an amenity the library currently lacks.
Much has changed since the two-story brick building at 2 Main St. opened to patrons on Aug. 24, 1921. Back then, according to the library’s website, its 5,000 square feet held about 5,000 volumes, with capacity for another 4,000. Those books fit nicely on the first floor, allowing the second floor to be set aside for public meetings.
A century later, the same 5,000 square feet holds nearly 23,000 volumes, Rozycki said. “We’re busier than ever,” she said.
The renovation also includes the Laura Nowak Meeting Room. That space includes the repurposing of a large closet on the library’s second floor to create a laptop bar and space for small meetings, with flexible furnishings that can accommodate meetings and study groups of as many as six people.
The library will have laptops to lend to patrons starting in June, thanks to a grant from the Vermont Community Foundation administered by the Department of Labor.
Eliza Hall Park McCullough had the library built in memory of her husband, John G. McCullough — a businessman, attorney, former attorney general of California and, from 1902-04, the 49th governor of Vermont. The building was designed by New York architect J. Lawrence Aspinwall and presented as a gift to the community.
According to its website, the library traces its linage to 1878, when the North Bennington Ladies Library Association was founded, charging members $1 per year. By 1900 the library, receiving funding from the Village of North Bennington, had become the North Bennington Free Library. Mrs. McCullough’s gift provided the institution with a permanent home.