Caroline MacArthur’s face lit up as she walked through the redesigned entryway at the Southold Free Library. “My heart is pounding,” the library director said. “I can’t believe it.”
Though rolls of contractor paper still line the freshly carpeted floors and brand new bookshelves remain empty, crews are working around the clock to put the finishing touches on the $1.75 million library renovation project that’s expected to wrap up this month.
According to Ms. MacArthur, they are on schedule to move back in at the end of this month and anticipate a soft opening in February. A formal grand opening and ribbon cutting is planned for March 29, she said, to allow patrons who may be spending the winter in Florida to attend.
The reimagined space features a new entryway that feels open and airy with a new circulation desk built by Anders Jensen Design of Greenport relocated next to the doorway.
The first room patrons will see upon entry is the new local history room, which will provide access to artifacts and documents and a new electronic fireplace donated by a local resident. The local history room was formerly located upstairs in what felt like a hidden room, Ms. MacArthur explained. “We want to celebrate the history of Southold and bring it front and center,” she said.
The first floor also features a new adult fiction area that will also have computers and a coffee station. Part of a former office was converted into a small study room that Ms. MacArthur said could be used for studying or tutoring.
On the other side of the building is a vibrant new children’s area with playful design features, color and plenty of light.
Upgrades were also made to the community room downstairs and on the second floor, the history room has been converted into a meeting room that will be able to accommodate meeting groups of up to 15. It’s named for Lucy Hallock Folk, Southold’s first librarian and longtime trustee.
The second floor also boasts a new teen area, study space, nonfiction section and business area. The former teen area was housed in the same room as the children’s library. “It was just insufficient,” Ms. MacArthur said. “Here, we’re giving them a dedicated space where teens can use the library in the way teens want to use the library,” she said.
Throughout the entire building, historical features such as the original woodwork, floors, exposed brick and vault were preserved. They date back to the original 1891 savings bank building. “When you look at the woodwork, it could take your breath away it’s so beautiful,” Ms. MacArthur said, noting that it was the mission of the board of trustees to honor the history while making much-needed updates to the library, which had last been renovated in the 1980s.
Another part of their mission was to preserve the coziness of the library — a word Ms. MacArthur said came up multiple times in focus group meetings ahead of the project.
The design was created by architect Vincent Benic, who specializes in historic building preservation. North Fork Woodworks led the project as its main contractor. Ms. MacArthur is anxiously awaiting the move and to welcome the public back to the library. Since the project began in September 2018, the library has been operating out of a temporary space at the adjacent Feather Hill complex. She thanked her library staff for working through the renovation remotely. “They took a whole new space and created a really functioning welcoming usable community library and they did it with finesse and a smile on their face,” she said.
The interior renovation of the 9,000-square-foot library was proposed after voters rejected a costly library expansion in 2010. 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 upgrades.