THEN ... Groundbreaking for a new library, at the cleared building site, Oct. 26, 2013.
AND NOW ... The completed Tiverton Public Library at the dedication, June 13, 2015. A crowd of about 200 gathered for the ceremony, after which the public got its first look inside.
Library Report staff
TIVERTON – June 13, 2015 - Celebrating the end of a long and sometimes perilous crusade to build a new Tiverton Public Library, local, state and federal officials today opened a $10.6 million building that some speakers described as the “crown jewel” of Rhode Island public libraries.
Set in a grove of trees across from town recreation fields and the Sandywoods artists’ village, the new building has both modern and traditional design elements, the most striking of which is a four-sided clock tower rising above the front entrance.
Inside, there is more than eight times the space than at the now-closed Essex Library it replaces – 23,792 square feet in the new library, compared to 2,850 square feet in a 76-year-old building that did not comply with fire codes or disability access rules.
Depending on how you measure it, the campaign for the new library stretches as far back as 1977 – when the current trustees’ chairperson, Barbara R. Donnelly, joined the board; or to 1987 – when a consultant declared that the Essex could not be enlarged; or to 2001, the day following the 9/11 terror attacks, when state officials warned that the town could lose both state funding and networking services, linking it with other libraries, if its library couldn’t meet state standards.
During today’s late morning ceremonies, held at the front steps of the new building, speakers often referred to the extended campaign.
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Karen Mellor, director of the state Office of Library and Information Services, noted that during the 14-year period that resulted in the construction, a generation of Tiverton children has gone through the school system, from kindergarten
But Mellor told an enthusiastic crowd of 200, some of whom sat in rows of folding chairs set up on the unblemished asphalt of the parking lot while others stood, that the successful effort proves the adage that “good things come to those who wait.”
“Tiverton: you have waited a really, really long time,” Mellor declared, “and I think you will all agree with me that this is really a very, very good thing that you have here.”
The state’s newest library, she continued, “will now be the crown jewel in the network of libraries across the state of Rhode Island.”
U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-RI, recalled attending the groundbreaking on Oct. 26, 2013, held at a crude clearing, from which some trees had been removed, along with a few of the many boulders deposited long ago by glaciers. The congressman noted that the crowds today and in 2013 were the about same size, proof of how much Tiverton residents care about their library.
The town’s commitment, Cicilline said, will inspire the state’s congressional delegation to continue to push for federal funds and other help for the nation's libraries.
“This is not only the crown jewel of the public libraries in our state,” said the former Providence mayor, “but the design of this really will ensure that young people really see this as a place to come to learn and to explore and to understand the world around them.”
The new building has areas for all patrons: separate children’s and teen sections, along with areas attractive to adults, like a reading and sitting room outfitted with a big fireplace, reported Cicilline, who had taken a tour prior to the ceremony.
THE PUBLIC GETS A LOOK
After the dedication, the library opened for business – the first time that the public has been allowed into the new building, despite initial hopes by library officials for a “soft opening” in May, well in advance of today’s ceremonial opening.
Donnelly, the trustees’ chairwoman, said in an interview that a last-minute glitch developed because the building’s fire sprinkler system was designed for water delivered at a higher pressure than is normally provided by the town’s water system, thus preventing public use.
But now, while awaiting installation of a remedial pumping system that is expected within a week or so, the library will continue to operate on the condition that a fire department official be present, she said.
That the public could now visit the library was good news for Michael Napolitano and his 2-year-old daughter, Morgan.
Napolitano, who lives near the library, was walking with Morgan around the recreational fields when he spotted the ceremonies underway across the street. So they walked over and watched the proceedings, sitting on a curb while munching on snacks.
“Are they going to open it up afterwards?” Napolitano asked, saying he wanted to bring Morgan inside the library and that he and his daughter would make many visits after that.
Also waiting patiently during the opening program were members of
Amanda said she brought the children regularly to the Essex Library and that they had been watching the construction progress eagerly, frequently driving by the building. Once inside the new library, the Lacroixs headed for refreshments, including big plates of cookies, which the Friends of Tiverton Libraries had provided in an airy common room just off the lobby, with big windows overlooking the area in front of the building.
The snacks were a reward for the children for waiting through the dedication, Amanda said. But as soon as they were finished, they planned to tour the rest of the facility, especially the children’s area.
The children’s section was a popular destination, as children and their mothers sat together in a central corral-like area equipped with kid-sized computer desks. One woman walked out with her arms full of books.
REMEMBERING A LONG CAMPAIGN
Among those circulating through the library was Sally Black, the chairperson of the town’s school committee, who chatted with Kathryn E. Ryan, who is the immediate past president of the Friends’ group and who played a long and major role in making the library project a success.
Black carried a large stuffed bear and a “vote yes” sign from the campaign in the fall of 2011, during which she, Ryan and others went door-to-door to convince voters to approve a $7 million bond issue that was a keystone in financing the construction. .
Advocates needed to make the library’s case personally, Ryan said, to ensure that the referendum did not get entangled with other town election issues.
In their face-to-face discussions with residents, the supporters had stressed the many benefits of a library to the town, along with the fact that the state would reimburse the town for $4 million of the bond, with the town picking up the other $3 million. It was a major victory for the proponents, with the referendum capturing 56 percent of the vote.
Savoring that, and other landmark successes, Black noted that the Rhode
Ryan noted that the tense election campaign was only one of many cliff-hanger points, which, if events hadn’t turned out the right way, might have scuttled the project.
For example, if Ryan hadn’t picked up word one morning at the Post Office that a nearly 6-acre plot at Bliss Four Corners was for sale, supporters might not have found a suitable site.
Or if U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, hadn’t wrangled a $475,000 grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, they might not have been able to pay for the land.
Or, if town state legislators Rep. John G. Edwards and Sen. Walter S. Felag, Jr., hadn’t been able to get the town included in the state construction aid program before a moratorium was enacted, they might have lost state aid.
Or if Dr. Leon W. Hoyer, a retired physician and medical school professor, had not come along just in time, they wouldn’t have had a seasoned chairman to head the building committee. Or if Eileen M. Browning’s Tiverton Library Foundation hadn’t been able to raise more than $3 million worth of donations, including $1 million from anonymous donors…. so many ifs.
But this day, the project was fresh out of ifs. The mood was upbeat and celebratory, both during the speaking program and after.
Keynote speaker Michael J. Tougias, of Plymouth, Mass., who has published 23 books and is working on another, said that he has visited some 1,000 libraries to talk about his books, and that the Tiverton building “is the most beautiful, functional library I’ve seen,” a line that drew applause.
Emphasizing the importance of libraries in shaping individual lives, Tougias recalled his own boyhood in Longmeadow, Mass., a suburb of Springfield, during which he struggled in school and became a disciplinary headache.
But one day he visited the town’s library, where a librarian asked him what kind of books interested him. He told her that he hoped when he was older to travel to Alaska and live off the land. “You want adventure books,” the librarian told him, and he left with three, including one entitled “Dogsled Danger.”
Tougias went on to find many more books to his liking, and later as a writer, one of his specialties became books about survival at sea, including one he coauthored in 2010, “The Finest Hours: The true story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s most daring sea rescue.” It’s now being made into a movie.
Other speakers included Town Councilman Brett N. Pelletier, who was the council’s liaison to the library project. Donnelly, the trustees’ chairperson, who acted as master of ceremonies, thanked many who had contributed to the project, including architects at Union Studio of Providence, and Behan Brothers, Inc., of Middletown, the project’s construction manager.
Troop 4218 of the Tiverton Boy Scouts provided a color guard and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Greater Tiverton Community Chorus performed two numbers, the first of which was From Sea to Shining Sea.
The community chorus’ final number was Take Care of This House, an enduring song from a failed 1976 Broadway musical by composer Leonard Bernstein and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, entitled “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The piece ends with these lines:
Take care of this house
Be always on call
For this house
Is the home of us all.