POWNAL — The Solomon Wright Public Library that awaits visitors at Saturday’s open house is a totally remade space. Emerging from a months-long renovation, the library features a fresh new look, and clever design elements that will allow it to serve the community in a variety of ways when the pandemic is over.
So much of the surroundings are new that it’s easiest to talk about what remains. Most visible are a wooden desk in the community room that dates back to when the library was housed in the basement of the Baptist church across the street, a meeting table and its collection of Ethan Allen chairs, a glass display case in the Lucy Wright Case Reading Room, and the familiar Waverly fabric from the curtains that used to hang in a front window, remade into cushions for the new upholstered chairs. (The reading room itself, built in 2012, was kept open during renovations as a “mini-library.”)
Virtually all else, from the durable tile and carpeting underfoot to the energy-efficient lighting overhead, is new. New, solid oak shelving units contribute to some 1,158 feet of shelf space, meaning the library can accommodate a line of books stretching the length of the liner Queen Mary 2, and then some.
There’s more room for old favorites, including the library’s collection of local and Vermont history, and new additions, such as a new Young Adult section, a new children’s Graphic Novel section, and a developing “Library of Things” — sporting equipment, games and other non-traditional items that can be borrowed.
In the space to the left of the entrance, the shelving units are mounted on wheels, making them easy to move aside to open the space for events. A new kitchenette, with refrigerator, microwave and sink, takes the place of an old storage closet behind the circulation desk, and gives the library the ability to serve food and refreshments at those events.
With initial plans for a big party to celebrate the completion of the work scrapped because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the library has planned an open house for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to allow the community to get an up-close look at the changes in a safe way. A limited number of visitors will be allowed into the building at one time, visiting seven stops as they pass through to learn about new features. Doors and windows will be open, and masks will be required.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am,” said Mary Natalizia, the chair of the library’s board of trustees, during a tour of the space Wednesday morning. Natalizia, who also chaired the renovation committee, praised the work of the many volunteers and professionals involved, including contractor Scot Wells of Pownal, designer John Guminak — whose resume includes library renovations in Wilmington and Dorset — and lighting designer Tim Mathieson.
Because of social distancing, the library’s director, Jen Ryan, “basically put this whole place back together by herself,” Natalizia added.
The roughly $200,000 renovation, the first since the library was built in 1966, was carried out entirely through donations. Half of the funds were bequeathed by George Renner, widower of Helen Renner, the driving force behind the creation of the library and served as its director for 35 years. Individuals donated the rest.
The building has been brought up to compliance with current Americans with Disabilities Act and other regulatory requirements, most visible in the wider doorway at the entry and the redesign of the rest room — which now offers a fold-down baby changing table.
Three new heat exchangers, obtained through a rebate program offered by the state, will be far more efficient than the air-conditioning units they replaced. That, and the new lighting, should shrink the library’s energy needs.
“We definitely got good value,” Natalizia said. “It’s not false economy. Everything is built to last.”
Ryan made use of the opportunity presented by the months-long closing. “If there is a silver lining to COVID closing our doors for so long, it’s that I was able to assess our collection book by book, taking out the titles that weren’t circulating, and leaving only those books that are most relevant and in highest demand,” she said.
Some books were donated to the nonprofit Better World Books, or sold a the library’s tag sale. “I would like to mention that no local history titles left our collection, and the library has been working in cooperation with the Pownal Historical Society to evaluate our Local History collection and develop a policy to protect those titles.”
The library now offers 10,000 print titles and 300 DVDs, as well as access to thousands of e-books and online audio books.
“I am thrilled with the new space and look forward to celebrating our reopening this Saturday,” Ryan said.
The Solomon Wright Public Library is now open to the public. Current hours of operation are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Curbside pickup is available.
The library is located at 97 Main St. in Pownal.