Library's Expansion  | Newspaper Articles
`New' library gets rave reviews
Mary Jo Hill, Telegram & Gazette, June 11, 2007

LEOMINSTER - Crowds poured into the newly expanded Leominster Public Library, at 30 West St., with kids plopping down on big pillows to read books and adults talking about the spaciousness and renovations.

More than 200 people turned out yesterday to listen to dedication speeches under a tent and then line up to finally get a look at the results of the more than $13 million project."It is huge! I love it. It's bigger than ours," said Sylvia Page, who recently moved to the city from Gardner, which opened a new library in 2004.

"We couldn't wait to get it open," said Ms. Page, who came with her three daughters.

Rick Shatos and his son, Matt, were already browsing in the stacks and Matt had some science-fiction books in hand. The library has more space and is brighter than before, Mr. Shatos said.

As people wandered through the young-adult room, Benjamin Kessler, 12, of Leominster, relaxed on pillows reading a book titled "Bad Cat."

"I think it is great," Benjamin said, explaining that he likes the books and games and having more places to sit.

"The bathrooms are much nicer, too," said Jake Cardinal, 12, of Leominster.

And 12-year-old Brandon Route of Leominster noted there was a PlayStation 2 available to use in the library. Instead of checking out 13 books at a time to take home, Brandon now plans on reading them at the library, he said.

The library opens for business at 9 this morning.

The mix of old and new in the library includes the original 1910 building - funded in part by steel tycoon and library philanthropist Andrew Carnegie - which has now been renovated. A 1966 addition of 10,000 square feet was torn down to make room for a 34,434-square-foot addition.

During the dedication ceremony, everyone from architects to the taxpayers were recognized. And the donations that have added up to $1.1 million - just $100,000 shy of the goal to pay for furniture and other items - were acknowledged as well.

Library Director Susan T. Shelton, who has shepherded the project through occasional troubles such as the discovery of groundwater and asbestos, received a standing ovation.

As Mrs. Shelton was introduced, Owen Shuman, director of the Groton Public Library, and Susan Tallman, past director of the Ritter Memorial Library in Lunenburg, whooped and cheered.

Ms. Shuman later said they have an informal group of library directors who meet at the North End Diner in Leominster and provide a support group for those who have gone through building projects.

"She, of course, has done an outstanding job," Ms. Shuman said. As for the roadblocks, Ms. Shelton handled those situations with "grace and aplomb," she said.

When Ms. Shelton spoke, she said that whether those in the audience played large or small roles, their involvement boosted the project.

"Visit us. Visit us often for this building is open to all," Ms. Shelton said.

Gilbert P. Tremblay, chairman of the library's board of trustees, said the library is frequented by everyone in the community, from the youngest residents to the oldest.

The project was done with blood, sweat and tears, Mr. Tremblay said. The blood came when he tripped on steel rebar, the sweat from all of the people who worked on the building and the library staff, and there were tears of frustration when the groundwater and asbestos problems came up, he said.

"You have put your faith in learning," said George T. Comeau, a member of the state Board of Library Commissioners. A future Nobel laureate, poet laureate or a great doctor could be influenced by the library, he said.

Adrian N. LeBlanc, an author who grew up in Leominster and who has won a MacArthur genius grant, was the guest speaker. She talked about coming to the library as a child. She would spend Saturday mornings browsing in the library while her mother collected her next week's supply of books, she said.

These aren't terrific times for libraries, so Leominster has made an admirable choice by making this project a priority, said Ms. LeBlanc, who now lives in New York. While there are no hard facts to prove the benefits of a library, a child can escape there from a noisy house to do homework, or a newly sober man can come there to work on his resume, she said.

Access isn't based on income at a library, she noted. "Books are shared, they aren't owned."

Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella said that although there are plenty of stories in the books in the library, "the real story is under this tent today." He said "average people" raised $1.1 million for the library, and so many people have been supporting it all along, not just when it became fashionable because of the expansion, he said.

As for patrons with overdue books, the mayor and councilors announced they would be waiving the overdue book fees. From today through June 30, outstanding fines up to $20 will be forgiven.

Six city councilors attended the ceremony.

Although cost overruns caused some consternation among some councilors, the three men who didn't attend the dedication event said their absences had nothing to do with those controversies.

Councilor Dennis A. Rosa said by telephone that Sundays are pretty much a family day because he runs his business the rest of the week. He noted that he and his wife donated to the library fund.

Councilor David E. Rowlands said his wife just went through surgery and can't drive or shop and he had a softball game yesterday.

And Councilor John M. Dombrowski said he had to coach his son's Little League game.

"I didn't have a problem with the project," Mr. Dombrowski said, although he said he did have a problem with the overrun.

Leominster's project comes at a time when a number of communities in the state are closing libraries or cutting back on hours and services because of budget woes, Councilor Claire M. Freda said. "This community should really be proud."



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