GLOVERSVILLE -- After 20 months of operating from temporary quarters at the Center for Regional Growth’s building at 34 W. Fulton Street, the Gloversville Public Library held its grand reopening and ribbon-cutting on Sunday, giving the public its first look at the $9 million renovation project of the historic 1904 Carnegie building.
Christine Pesses, president of the library's board of trustees and co-chair of its capital campaign, said the renovation project is the culmination of work that began in 2007 and included years of planning and fundraising. There were 917 private contribuations, ranging in size from 70 cents to seven-figure donations. She said it took a healthy dose of naivete to begin a project of this size.
"We couldn't continue much longer in a 100-year-old building with a 100-year-old furnace, with no air conditioning, with wasted space that wasn't available for public use, and a leaking roof," Pesses told a crowd of community members in the front hall of the library. "We believed it was our duty to provide modern library services and to save one of the most beautiful buildings in Gloversville."
The project received a big boost from Gloversville native and Pulitzer prize-winning author Richard Russo, who became the honorary campaign chair in 2014. In 2015, the fundraising campaign received a $1 million donation from the Lucius Littauer Foundation. Also that year, the library was awarded $1 million from the New York state Consolidated Funding Application program, and in 2016 retiring New York State Sen. Hugh Farley helped secure a $2.23 million State and Municipal funding application grant.
Farley was among those in attendance on Sunday, as was newly elected Assemblyman Robert Smullen, Gloversville Mayor Dayton King and former 118th Assembly District candidate Keith Rubino.
Russo gave the keynote speech at the event. He said that libraries serve a vital purpose in putting public funds to the good of all the members of the public. He referenced a column by New York Times writer David Brooks in which he opined about the impossibility of cleaning only the part of a swimming pool one happens to be swimming in. He said too many people in the United States today are seeking political solutions that benefit only themselves.
"That ignores a core belief that this nation was built upon, that we are all in the same pool," he said.
Russo said he grew up in a lower middle class household in a community that understood that some institutions needed to exist for the common good without respect to ethnicity or class. He said one of those institutions is the public library, a place where he learned about the importance of a good story, borrowing books like the Hardy Boys and Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars novels.
"A lot has happened since then that has caused us to question that core tenant, but the way this community has come together to save this library suggests that the idea of a common good is far from dead. There is still such a thing as social capital, which is shared wealth, derived from shared purpose," he said.
Library Director Barbara Madonna said she is excited about the programming and services the library will now be able to offer. She said some of the state grant funding has required the library add staffing, which she said will need to include a civil service exam process.
She said the library's operating budget for 2019 will be $525,000, which is what it was in 2018, because some positions hadn't been filled yet, because "there was no place to put them." She said most of the library project has been paid for, but in order to get the funding from the $2.23 million grant secured by Farley, the library will have to pay that money up front and then submit for reimbursement.
She said she's not yet certain how that will be done. The library asked the Enlarged Gloversville School District if it could borrow the money but the district school board declined to do so. She said another option might be the liquidation of some of the assets of the library's private foundation, although that could create problems for the library's operating budget going forward.
The Gloversville Public Library is a school district library, and has a permanent funding stream from property taxes paid by the residents of the Gloversville school district. Madonna said she believes the funding issue will be resolved one way or another.
"I have learned throughout this process to have faith and to realize that nothing ever happens on my timetable," she said.
Among the many library volunteers and staff brought to tears on Sunday was capital campaign co-chair Elizabeth Batchelor, who thanked the library's staff for all of the work it did in getting the library back in operation, including the moving and stacking of 13,000 books.
King said he is hopeful the new library will add to successes Gloversville is seeing in its downtown area. He said he hopes to have talks with the library to see if it could host some of Gloversville's local government board meetings.
"I think this renovation has been awesome. I would just like to get as much attention and traffic of people to see it as possible," King said.
These are among the major improvements done to the building:
• Full accessibility to all levels of the building, including the "Carnegie Room" now provided by an elevator and a second set of stairs.
• Full Americans With Disabilities Act compliance throughout the building, including accessible bathrooms.
• Changes to the building's structure to allow books to be stored in many more rooms of the building. The renovations expanded from 6,000 to 19,000 square feet of space now usable for library programming.
• Construction of a youth center that is three times the size of the original children's room, including a teen room.
• All new plumbing and wiring throughout the building.
• Four new meeting rooms dedicated to public use, ranging from a small space appropriate for 2 to 3 people to a large space appropriate for up to 60 people equipped with sound, projection equipment, and a hearing loop to assist patrons who wear hearing aids.
• New safety features, including a sprinkler system and additional means of exit from every level of the building.