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ON THE SCENE: Welcome to the new Keene Valley Library

August 3, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

The Keene Valley Library had a grand re-opening on Saturday afternoon, July 28.

The library, established in 1885, started by a nucleus of 167 books which has grown to more than 20,000 today. The initial building was constructed in 1896. Various expansions were added over the years with the most extensive in 1962, followed by adding a couple of rooms in the basement in 1980.

Since then, and especially in the last 20 years, the nature of libraries has changed dramatically with much of those new directions spurred on by the advent of digital technologies and the internet. Unique compared with most libraries is Keene Valley's role serving as the library for the Keene Central School located a few blocks away. Over the years, the library has been used as a lecture hall where many presentations take place, a venue for community discussions, and as a catalyst for a summer concert series at Marcy Field.

Article Photos

Keene Valley Library Director Karen Glass and local children cut the ribbon at the re-dedication ceremony on Saturday, July 28.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

As Fats Waller would say, "the joint is jumpin'," which makes it tough on those who come in seeking a quiet place to read a magazine or a book, use the internet or conduct research. In 2011, the board and its director Karen Glass began looking into options. It became evident they needed more space. As they had no extra land out back, that meant going up and re-doing the basement. The board organized focus groups which added input from the school, community and other users.

At an off-campus retreat, the board reviewed what they learned and hammered out a vision statement. In 2014, the board interviewed several architects selecting Sue and Don Davis of SD Atelier to do the work. The big gulp was learning what fulfilling most of their dreams would cost. They went back and identified the most critical priorities and tightened the scope, which resulted in a $1.5 million budget, a considerable leap even so.

Within that scope, the plans addressed everything from needed fixes to the basement and core plant to adding a second story and more space in the back. The outcome is that practically every area in the library has been repurposed or is brand new. Construction was conducted in two phases, with the first focused on the building engineering, new heating system, strengthening the foundation and reducing moisture penetration. Phase two, completed the night before the opening, including building the new second floor, installing an elevator and rounding out with improved landscaping, a new entrance and a path to that entrance.

"Our challenges in designing the new addition and upgrade was dealing with the very tight site constraints, the condition of the building, historic preservation issues as the main building is on the registrar and retrofitting some of the new building to the steel frame of the old facility," said Sue Davis. "We had to cantilever the back part to enable us to get more space and modify the original flooring so it could carry the extra weight."

Keene has a year-round population of only 1,200, but the demand on the library is far greater than most other communities of that size because of the number of seasonal residents and visitors. Small though the town is, they are not shy about being bold, which a few years ago resulted in their being the standard bearer in the Adirondacks for expanding their internet to nearly every household in town. Thus, they launched the fund drive, began construction and managed to stay open through it all. Good news was that the fundraising goal was reached and indeed slightly exceeded, very needed as with work on any old building, some surprises result in unexpected expenses. The library was no exception.

"I'm very excited and very proud of all the people that worked very hard to make this happen and the community who supported it to the fullest," said Bill Reed, past president and co-chair of the fund drive. "We are virtually complete. There are some details here and there, some things we need to do, but I'm very pleased by what the capital campaign was able to achieve."

Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson helped dedicate the library saying that it has meant very much to him and his family, all of whom use it. He thanked Glass, the board, and all the people who contributed and volunteered, thanks that were echoed and detailed by Betsey Serjack, co-chair of the fund drive. Wilson described how the community now has a cutting-edge library which he knew would benefit residents and visitors alike.

Glass celebrated many of the standout librarians who proceeded her.

"This library doesn't just live in this time period; it also lives in the history of many people who have gone before," said Glass. "I only know a few, but there was Blanch Isham, Peggy O'Brien, Dotty Irving, Nina Allen, Pat Galeski, Nancy Edmunds, and Maggie Sheldon, who welcomed my kids when they were teenagers."

Glass noted how many kids were inspired to become librarians, such as Kate Owen and Adrian Miller, or who serve on library boards.

Using a pair of century-old scissors that belonged to her husband Howard's grandfather, a hatter, Glass and a group of children cut the yellow ribbon opening the library to the dozens gathered. People poured in, spreading throughout the building with board members, staff and volunteers positioned in the various departments to describe the new functions and upgrades.

In the archives, Penny March, assisted by Kate Owen, was looking for maps that showed where Beede Road connected over to what is now Route 9N on the top of Spruce Hill, the route her ancestor used to get to Elizabethtown when they lived in Keene during the late 19th century. Meanwhile, down in the basement, Sophie Ann, a young volunteer, was describing to Stefany Valovic and Emily Glass the wonders of the maker space with the enthusiasm of a majorette at half-time.

"You can do everything you want!" she said while waving her arms about.

On the second floor, former Keene Central School Board President Teresa Cheetham-Palen, now a member of the Keene Town Council, and Sarah Wilson were equally enthused by the upgrades.

"We are so lucky to have the Keene Valley Library and all the people who helped make this happen," said Wilson. "It's such a resource for our kids, community and families.

"I feel like I'm having an out-of-body experience," said Palen. "Is this Keene Valley? It's beautiful. It's modern. It's lovely. We are very fortunate to have this. That meeting space is going to get a lot of use."

"I think this is going to be a great asset for the community for many years to come," said library President Pete Suttmeier.



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