Work begins on library renovation project

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Signs inside and outside the Warren Public Library indicate that an extensive renovation project is under way.

The library isn’t just a quiet place for finding and reading books and periodicals.

At the Warren Public Library, the staff is ready to make some noise and let people know about their renovation project — Meeting the Needs of Tomorrow: Access, Improvements, and Teen Space Renovation.

Work began Monday on the long-awaited project that will create a large teen space, bring air conditioning to public spaces, upgrade the network infrastructure, and bring several other changes.

During that project, there will be times when the library will have to close. “Later this month there will be some asbestos abatement,” Library Director Kelli Knapp said. “We will be closed.”

If the renovation requires that the electricity or water be turned off, the doors will be closed.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Signs inside and outside the Warren Public Library indicate that an extensive renovation project is under way.

There won’t be space for meeting rooms nor in-house programming during the renovation — for the next several months.

But, in all, library staff do not expect closures to happen often and will provide as much warning as possible when they do.

“We are going to keep the library open during construction as much as possible,” Knapp said.

The first step is dismantling just about everything that was in the basement.

The basement had — no surprise — books in it. “It used to be stacks,” Knapp said. “All materials will be moved upstairs.”

The Friends of the Library Book Cellar will be moved to a location on the main level across from the circulation desk – much more convenient to the entrance than the previous basement location.

The teen space – geared for young people, but not exclusively their domain – will take over the basement.

“We all believe we need to be that place for teens where they can feel comfortable,” Knapp said. “They need to have a place to go when they don’t have anywhere else to go.”

“We will be providing a wide range of opportunities,” she said. “Whether it’s just getting together and playing video games, studying, learning fun and interesting new things, or just some down time, we want teens to be happy here.”

The young adult books — including a variety of graphic novels and Manga — will be moved there. “We’re going to have a lounge area and a computer use area,” she said. “There will be a meeting room.”

Pretty standard stuff. But there’s more.

“There will be a gaming area,” Knapp said. “There will be a sound-proof recording studio. There will be a green screen and video recording equipment.”

There will be a kitchenette.

“There will be a maker space,” she said. “A maker space is where you learn to make things. It’s learning to do.”

Those who want to practice jewelry-making or digital photography or coding or any of many other options will have a space to do so. “We’re going to start out with several of those things.”

Library personnel visited others facilities with teen spaces to see what kinds of things they might want to include. From each of the 10 libraries in the Pittsburgh area, they found one thing in common — “the kids like sewing machines,” Knapp said.

While that area will be ready and operational when the renovation is complete, “it will take a little time to make the maker space work effectively,” she said.

Amanda Bajdo is the library’s new full-time teen services specialist and her office will be attached to the teen space. “She’s fabulous,” Knapp said.

She said the library is fortunate to have a large area it can turn into a teen space. Some libraries have made do with whatever corner they can carve out.

“It will be awesome once it’s up and running,” Knapp said. “The staff and I believe this is going to be one of the best library teen spaces in the state.”

That is an important achievement.

Those in libraries and in communities who think there is no need for teen spaces because there are no teens utilizing the place are looking at the situation backwards, Knapp said. If there is a good space for teens, teens will use it.

“We are going to make sure that we have a safe, comfortable space,” she said.

The idea for a renovation began with the teen space. But it didn’t end there.

“The project grew,” Knapp said. “We are replacing all of our lighting with LED. We are adding air conditioning to all public areas, which is difficult in a building built in 1916.”

“We are making Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades,” she said. In addition to all public doors having push-button operation, the ADA changes will be seen in signage, the elevator, and the public restrooms.

There will be new carpet in some places, new furniture in public areas.

“We are hopefully going to have two stand-alone meeting pods,” she said. The glass-walled enclosures will be just the right size when a few people need a place to meet or one needs to take an online test… things like that.

The Jefferson meeting room — in a corner of the basement — will be remodeled.

The physical spaces aren’t the only ones being renovated. “Our network infrastructure is going to be completely rebuilt,” Knapp said. “We are barely getting by. We are not going to meet our needs and out patrons’ needs in the future if we don’t do this.”

New and upgraded security cameras will also be part of the work.

The project carried a $1.3 million price tag when it was first bid out.

But, that was before COVID-19.

“This project has been delayed,” Knapp said. “It should have been completed by now.”

The new target completion date is fall of 2022.

“We had to go out for bid three times,” she said. “Construction companies didn’t have enough people or were already working on large projects.”

Over time, “costs went up dramatically,” she said.

The new number is $1.7 million.

“We are very fortunate to have a community that supports this library and provided the matching funds that we needed to apply for this grant to begin with,” Knapp said. “We were very fortunate to have some funders come through for us to cover the additional $400,000 that we needed.”

She listed the Community Foundation of Warren County, DeFrees Family Memorial Fund, Mr. and Mrs. John Hanna, Mr. Jim Beckley, United Refining Company, and the City of Warren as those who helped carry the library through the shortfall.

“We are extremely grateful to them,” she said.

The staff is looking forward to the changes. “We are all so excited that this is finally coming to fruition,” Knapp said. “What we are doing will benefit everyone who comes through the doors.”

“The staff has been patient,” Knapp said. “The staff here has worked so hard to prepare and submit the Keystone grant.”

That grant is about an inch-and-a-half thick.

“I want everybody to realize the time and commitment and love that the staff has put into this project,” she said. “They’re exceptional.”

“We’ve known for years that there were things that could be improved upon, but having the time and the money to do that is difficult,” she said. “We look forward to providing not only new opportunities to the community and our patrons, but much needed improvements as well.”


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