BARRE — The Katherine Paterson Children’s Room in the basement of the Aldrich Public Library is back in business, though its once memorable “stairway to nowhere” is now gone.
The new carpet is down, the new mural is up and the new bookshelves were hastily stocked over the weekend, as a largely grant-funded renovation project that spanned several months wrapped up just in time for Children’s Librarian Ian Gauthier to squeeze in a couple of year-ending events.
Gauthier hosted a “Nutcracker Party” amid the whir of project-related activity on Saturday and christened the new-look children’s room with his first story hour Monday morning.
The library was closed on New Year’s Day and by the time it reopened at noon Wednesday, the children’s room had already hosted its first morning playgroup and Gauthier was readying for an afternoon meeting of Lego enthusiasts.
“I’m settling in,” said Gauthier, who said he likes the look of the reconfigured and refurnished room.
Gauthier isn’t alone.
Library Director Loren Polk, who was hired shortly before construction was set to begin, also likes the new look.
“It doesn’t feel like a basement now,” Polk said. “It feels like a children’s room.”
That was the point of the project that was largely funded through the library’s $131,432 cut of a $200,000 Promise Community Grant that required the money be spent and the renovated children’s room be operational by the end of 2018.
“We just made it,” said Gauthier, who noted Saturday’s well-attended party, inspired by “The Nutcracker,” satisfied that requirement and Monday’s story hour was added insurance.
According to Polk, they cut it closer than originally hoped, but a planned mid-December opening slid into the holidays and required some fast work by dozens of community volunteers.
The list ranged from local Rotarians and Boy Scouts to members of the Unitarian Church, library boosters and volunteers who spent most of Friday and a good part of Saturday placing books on the custom-made maple shelves.
“It was quite a job,” Polk said of work that continued through Saturday’s “soft opening.”
“I’m pleased and tired,” she said.
Though library trustees had hoped to land two additional grants and are still waiting on word about one, Polk said the Promise Community money, coupled with a $20,000 grant from the Tarrant Foundation and two anonymous donations financed much of the work contemplated by architects.
Thanks to a cooperative contractor — Lajeunesse Construction — Polk said the library got more than its money’s worth with respect to renovations.
“We got a lot of the structural framework done,” she said, noting what remains is a “wish list” of items that can be added in the future.
A new train table is on the list. So is a new dollhouse. Some of the seating envisioned by architects could be added later as money permits.
Polk said the project checked all of the other boxes, including a better floor plan, improved lighting and a fresh feel.
“We’re really happy with the increased functionality and space of the room,” she said.
Polk said the addition of a small room that will provide parents, tutors and counselors a private place to meet with children is an important feature and the new bookshelves are more than just an aesthetic upgrade.
“They allow us to house books in a way that makes them appealing and accessible to children,” she said.
Though the children’s room is now up and running, Polk said a grand opening would likely be scheduled later this month — after the neighboring Milne Community Room gets its new carpet and a fresh paint job courtesy of another anonymous donation.
While the renovations were underway, the Milne room served as the children’s library, and as soon as the old bookshelves and other remnants of that role are removed Polk said it will receive some overdue attention.