Library upgrade set for this year
STEUBENVILLE — Alan Hall tripped on the front step of the Main Library when he was leaving his first interview for the library director job 34 years ago.
“It was a very short step, that meant you had to be prepared to step down as soon as you walked out the front door. A number of people tripped on that step and we finally took care of it,” recalled Hall.
“My first impression when I came here for that interview was the building was hard to get into. But after you work here for awhile you fall in love with the place. But the time has come to make this building fully accessible to everyone,” stated Hall.
Plans call for a $3.5 million renovation project that will see the existing garage demolished and a new addition built at the rear of the main library.
The main entrance will move to the Slack Street side of the new addition while maintaining the 115-year-old original Carnegie library building on South Fourth Street.
The city’s Historical Landmarks Commission recently approved the design concept but Hall, as commission chairman, recused himself from voting.
“The library board of trustees has been adamant over the years about saving money for this project. We feel we are now ready to proceed,” declared Hall.
“The entire point of all of this is to make the library more accessible. We went from ideas, including the installation of an exterior elevator to moving to another building, but the library board of trustees wanted to do this right,” Hall said.
“We are sitting in the last of 860 libraries in Ohio that is not ADA accessible, and I am not proud of that. We have six different levels in the Carnegie library and we needed to do something to preserve the building and make everything accessible. At the same time we will keep what we can in place. The steam radiators were installed in 1902, but we have been told they are still in good shape so they will stay,” continued Hall.
“The mezzanine level is used for book storage as is the tower room and that will be used by staff only. So the three public rooms in the main library will be made accessible. Our patrons will enter the library through a new Slack Street entrance. From there they can take steps or an elevator to the different levels,” Hall explained.
“The children’s library will move to the second floor. We will finally separate the public and staff areas of the library And yes, we will save the 105 paper mache figures that are here in the main library as well as in our branch libraries. People love those figures and they will remain a part of our system,” added Hall.
He noted Valentour, English, Bodnar and Howell Architects of Pittsburgh were chosen to design the new library addition and construction bids are set to go out this summer, with construction set for September.
“One of the architects on this project is Tom Stanko who is from Steubenville and he is proud to be doing something for his hometown. Part of his design will include saving the original Carnegie Library wall that is part of the garage. For some reason that wall was painted silver, so that paint will be removed and the wall will become a focal point of the new entrance lobby area. And we will have a community room in our new addition, which is something we have needed for a long time,” cited Hall.
“The plans for the original Carnegie library included a third wing where the garage now sits. But that wing was cut because it cost too much. Now we will have that wing in place with the addition,” Hall said.
“We will close the main library for about a year while the building is remodeled and rebuilt. The staff will be moved to the Schiappa, Toronto and Brilliant branches. I will stay here along with two or three other administrators to keep an eye on everything. They tell me my office will be demolished but have promised to build me another one,” laughed Hall.
“I feel like I am putting together a jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces. We are starting with certain constraints. The exterior facade will stay the same. But we will have three public service desks in the library instead of the one desk on the main floor,” noted Hall.
“There are three libraries in Ohio that lay claim to being the first Carnegie library in the state. And we all have a right to the claim, including Sandusky, East Liverpool and Steubenville. I admit I thought the building was old when I first came here, but even I have fuzzy, warm feelings about the library building,” commented Hall.
“When Tom Stanko started thinking about ideas for the addition, he took me over to the Holy Name Cathedral front steps and asked me to look at the library. And I immediately said that it looked ugly. This addition and the cathedral project will be a major shot in the arm for the south end of Steubenville. I thank Bishop (Jeffrey) Monforton and the diocese for their help in making our new building happen. We needed a little bit of space from next to their parking lot for our utilities and they quickly agreed to do that,” continued Hall.
According to Hall, renovations have been undertaken at the main library in recent years. In addition, the library has purchased 10 properties around the library building for green space and additional parking.
“I’m greatly excited about all of this. We are getting to the point of finalizing the design plans. We bought a nearby house and had it demolished and we are preparing to move what will need to be moved for the demolition work. I am looking forward to the Carnegie library with the new addition and what it will look like in the future,” Hall stated.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)