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Southold Free Library is renovating with technology in mind

The $1.75 million renovation project for Southold Free Library has passed the halfway point toward completion, library director Caroline MacArthur said Monday.

The renovation is expected to be completed in October. The library was first incorporated in 1797 and operated in several locations before relocating to its current brick building — the former Southold Savings Bank.

The building was renovated over 25 years ago, Ms. MacArthur said, but because it was planned in the mid-’80s, it wasn’t constructed with computers in mind. She said she believes the needs of the community have changed.

“When the library was first set up, and then when it was expanded, the service priorities were different. You’d walk in, find your books, come to the circulation desk, which is front and center, and walk out,” she said. “Of course, that changed dramatically.”

For this reason, library staff and trustees decided to prioritize an open floor plan to better reflect the library’s 21st-century users.

To pay for the modifications, the library received a $270,000 grant from NYS Aid for Library Construction and received roughly $1 million through fundraising in 2009. In May 2017, community members approved a proposition on Southold Union Free School District’s budget, which supported a five-year loan of $750,000 for library updates.

Architect Vincent Benic, who specializes in historic building preservation, plans to restore the original building, which was constructed in 1891. The adult services and local history sections will be relocated to the first floor.

“Our history collection is a beautiful treasure to Southold,” Ms. MacArthur said. “[Mr. Benic]’s got a great concept for bringing modern-day design into a historic building.”

The renovation plan, contracted by North Fork Woodworks, will move the children’s department to the first floor. Residents will walk through an updated best-sellers and popular items section before entering the children’s area. A new circulation desk, built by Anders Jensen Design of Greenport, will be placed near the main entryway.

The teen section and expanded study space will be relocated to the second floor and divided by glass doors — another element of the open floor plan concept, the director said.

“My idea is that during the day, when teens are in school, [the study space] will be our quiet reading area,” she said.

The Whitaker Room, which contains an original bank vault from the building’s past, was often ignored because bookshelves blocked visibility of the entryway, Ms. MacArthur said. The space will be renovated into a more visible public meeting room. The director’s office will remain on the second floor.

The Community Room on the lower level will be redesigned for better acoustics, Ms. MacArthur said. The addition of a drop ceiling will make the room appear larger, she said.

During renovations library patrons will continue to be directed to a neighboring building at Feather Hill Shopping Center. Local libraries and First Presbyterian Church of Southold have offered library services to Southold residents.

In early May, library staffers will launch a brick fundraiser campaign: Residents can purchase a brick by making a donation to the library, which will make up the renovated library’s main entryway.

Caption: Director Caroline MacArthur in what will be Southold Free Library’s adult section Monday. Renovations, due to be finished in October, will preserve part of the original 1891 building. The $1.75 million renovation project began in September 2018. 

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