Many positive things

With the end of April and the beginning of May comes a full slate of activities throughout the Tri-State Area.

All are good things. Some offer the chance to honor the people who are working to make a difference in our communities.

Others often provide the opportunity to celebrate the opening of something new.

We’ve seen both during the past 10 days or so.

On Monday, for instance, members of the community gathered inside the new lobby of the main branch of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County to celebrate the completion of the nearly $4 million renovation project that, in addition to bringing the building into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, should help position the facility to serve the needs of the residents of Steubenville and the surrounding areas for a long time to come.

The original structure is one of the 1,689 Carnegie libraries that were built in the United States between 1883 and 1929. It falls somewhere in the middle of that stretch, having been completed in 1902. Included in the two-story addition, which opened to the public Tuesday, are study rooms, a community meeting room and an elevator.

It gives Steubenville’s South End a fresh look, as Thomas Graham reminded those who gathered for Monday’s ribbon-cutting.

“I’ve said this many times before when commenting on various projects, great things don’t just happen, they happen because of great people,” said Graham, who is the interim dean of academics at Eastern Gateway Community College as well as a Jefferson County commissioner. “The fact that the board had the vision, along with Alan Hall and all of those involved with this project — it’s just unbelievable what they have been able to accomplish.”

Among those who helped Hall, the longtime library director who saw the project through to completion and is now officially retired, was Mike Gray, the longtime assistant director who was recently promoted to the top spot.

Patrons have missed being able to access the facility for the last 18 months or so while work on the addition progressed and the remainder of the inside received a new look.

There’s no doubt some residents of the downtown were affected during the last year and a half by not having ready access to all the library has to offer, which Gray acknowledged in his comments Monday morning. And though the bookmobile made a regular stop in the parking lot while the work was being done, some amenities just weren’t available.

One of those was access to the Internet. That’s something many of us take for granted, but for some area residents, being able to connect to the World Wide Web is a luxury, something that’s done through a shared computer in a public space or by having to search for public WiFi access.

Libraries always have been magical places, spots where anyone could go to read a book or share ideas or do some personal research into a topic they have wondered about. That hasn’t changed, and the availability to search the Internet is just another example of how libraries have evolved during the years.

“There are a couple of ways of learning in life,” Graham said.

“One of them is by living life, and the other is by reading. This library is an investment in cultural capital. There’s monetary capital, but there’s also cultural capital. Having the ability to read and gain knowledge is the best way to learn.”

¯ Steubenville’s North End, meanwhile, was the sight of the 60th-anniversary celebration of Urban Mission Ministries on April 26.

The evening was held in the space that had at one time been occupied by the downtown Kroger and Sav-a-Lot grocery stores in what is now known as the Seventh Street Plaza. One of the most interesting parts of the event was a pop-up museum that was set up inside the building and allowed for attendees to see items from the mission’s past.

It was interesting to hear from the Revs. Bruce Hitchcock and Roger Skelley-Watts, former directors, who shared their memories and experiences while serving at the mission.

Those in attendance also had the opportunity to hear the Rev. Ashley Steele, the current director, discuss the plans for the facility, which will serve many purposes, including a place to buy fresh food and a spot where those who lack skills to join the work force can be trained.

It also will serve as a place of fellowship, which was demonstrated that night.

The mission’s board and Steele have big plans for the space — all they have to do is finish raising the money that they need. The bet here is that will happen much sooner than later, and many people will have the chance to benefit from their efforts.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)