Southold Library to begin yearlong renovation

The Southold Free Library is gearing up to shut its doors Aug. 1 to begin a $1.7 million, yearlong renovation project.

The library will reopen about 10 days later in a temporary home next door in Feather Hill at the former location of Elmer’s Custom Amish Furniture, according to director Caroline MacArthur. Essential services and materials will be available there, Ms. MacArthur said, though all library programming over the next year will take place at satellite locations such as town buildings on Peconic Lane, local churches and neighboring libraries in Greenport and Cutchogue.

The project has been a long time in the making. 

“We looked at so many different scenarios, including expanding the footprint of the library,” Ms. MacArthur said, but the proposed expansion quickly became a costly proposal that was ultimately rejected by the community in a 2010 vote.

The scaled-back proposal accommodates for an interior revamp of the nearly 9,000-square-foot library. 

“Our goal is to restore the historical splendor of the original library while at the same time updating the technology and the physical space,” said library trustees president David Robinson. 

Significant changes include the creation of a young adults library. Currently, the teen section is housed adjacent to the children’s room and consists of a few chairs, two computers and a limited book selection. The plan is to create a teen space on the second floor that has study and gaming spaces, allowing for more socialization. 

An architectural renderings of the children’s room. (Vincent Benic Architect courtesy photo)

“Instead of someone walking around and going ‘shh,’ Ms. MacArthur said.

Southold teen Anakin Mignone uses the library frequently and said resources he discovered at the library sparked an interest in filmmaking. But Anakin, 17, said some students may simply be unaware of what the local library has to offer. 

“If following the renovations students are met with a beautifully updated space and amazing resources it will be very attractive to students,” he said, adding that he sees the library as a place to cultivate learning. “[The library] always felt like a place where the learning was for you, rather than for a project or teacher.”

Another design feature will make local history more accessible, as The Whitaker Room and its historical documents will move to the main floor. “[The collection] has always been very hidden,” Ms. MacArthur said. “It’s a gem that only this community has. The community owns its history, so we’re going to bring that front and center.”

The second floor space that currently houses historic documents and books will become a community meeting space with an art gallery funded by the Friends of the Southold Library, Ms. MacArthur said.

Architect Vincent Benic, a part-time Southold resident, has been leading the project. He carefully considered the building’s history in his design, which will highlight some historic features, including woodwork and two fireplaces.

The library has occupied the building since 1928 and its last major update was in 1991. Original artifacts, like the vault of the former Southold Savings Bank, will not be altered, Ms. MacArthur said.

Nearly $1 million was raised by the community several years back that the board invested to put toward the project, Ms. MacArthur said. To fund the remaining $750,000, library officials asked the community for a budget increase of $150,000 for the next three years. The increase, which Mr. Robinson said amounts to roughly $20 per year for the average taxpayer, has already been approved by taxpayers in 2017 and 2018.

Over 20 years at the Southold Library, Ms. MacArthur has seen the institution undergo fundamental changes. 

“People are coming to the library for different things now,” she said, pointing out that fishing poles and telescopes are available to loan. While there will be an overall net loss in terms of print books when residents return to the space, Ms. MacArthur is hoping for a renewed focus on community spaces and programs. 

“I think we’ll be able to offer the community much more vibrant services,” she said.

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