NORTH BENNINGTON — After two years of renovations, COVID, supply chain delays and planning, the John G. McCullough Free Library has once again opened its doors to the community it’s dedicated to serve.
The 101-year-old library closed in March 2020 because the COVID pandemic, and it has been allowing community members to safely pick up books, without spending time in the building, three times a week since June 2020. Library Director Jennie Rozycki said participation in the book pick-up program was “robust,” but “nothing really replaces browsing … I’m glad we can do that safely and in a really updated and pleasant space.”
While the building was closed for the lockdown, the library administration decided to take advantage of the closure to move forward with a building project that already was in the works, but then problems in the supply chain and with construction caused a considerable delay.
Regarding the updates, “the crowning achievement, I think, is the conversion of a large closet on the second floor,” said Rozycki. The closet was transformed from a storage room for broken furniture into a meeting room that also serves as a memorial for Laura Nowak.
The meeting room features a laptop bar and workspace. Visitors can bring their own laptops or use one from the library. The room can also be reserved as a private meeting space.
Rozycki said a lot of the updates and construction work was “unglamorous” but important to the facility. Accessible bathrooms were added to the first and second floors, and a baby changing table was added to the second floor accessible bathroom. The building’s electric system was rewired and a hardwired fire alarm system was installed.
To make the building more energy efficient, a heat pump was installed throughout the building. A new HVAC system also was installed to improve the library’s air quality. It was a part of the project that became especially important after COVID, not only because of the pandemic, but also because the air conditioning in the library stopped working in 2020.
A part of the project, which is still in progress, is the restoration of the portico on the library’s front porch that suffered water damage. Some of the portico will be replaced or repainted. The roofing will also be replaced.
“I’m really pleased with the work that’s been done,” said Rozycki. “It honors the historic nature of the building.” The updates will enable the community to fully use the space, she said.
The construction and preservation work on the building was funded through several sources. The library had an existing building fund to make the building more accessible for people with disabilities, and a cultural facilities grant was also used. Federal pandemic relief funds through the village of North Bennington were used for the HVAC system.
The library also received a generous bequest from the estate of Maurice Kahn “that made up the lion’s share of what we were able to accomplish,” said Rozycki.
The total cost of the renovations will be about $345,000.
FOR THE COMMUNITY
Over the last 15 years, the community has been surveyed three times, and each time one response stayed consistent — the people wanted the library to increase their hours of operation, especially in the morning. Funding from an anonymous and generous donor allowed the library to increase their staff and add an additional nine hours of operation.
There are a few minor changes inside the building that visitors should be aware of. The library was able to replace the 100-year-old chairs on the first floor with new ones that “still look very much at home in the library,” said Rozycki.
There is a new help yourself cabinet that contains shelf stable food, hygiene products and literature for anyone who might need public assistance or resources. The library is also working on adding a tool lending library, although that is not yet available.
On the second floor, the new Youth Services Librarian Gizelle Guyette rearranged the area to create a welcoming space for families and younger people.
There are no residency restrictions or requirements to enjoy the freshly renovated library. “Folks from Shaftsbury, Bennington and North Bennington are most heartily welcome to come and activate their membership,” Rozycki said.
Thursday is the library’s official grand opening, but all of the speeches, celebrations and cake will occur later in the month.
“We can safely welcome everyone back to the building,” said Rozycki.