By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(July 12, 2018) It was supposed to be a soft opening for the Berlin branch of the Worcester County Library, but about 400 people showed up within the first hour and a half on Tuesday to welcome the new library to town, according to county library Director Jennifer Ranck.
The $6.25 million facility was designed and built to be long-lasting and more energy-efficient than other Worcester County branches, and is several times larger than the previous Berlin library, which was on Main Street near the fire company.
Ranck said planning for the new building took “quite a while.”
“The in-depth planning happened around 2013 in 2014, when [the county] purchased the property. We started working on some state capital grants during that time,” she said. “Design took us a few years because we wanted to make sure we did it correctly – they spent a long time on that process. And then construction started last May and here we are today.”
She said the biggest change between the old and new buildings was the amount of space.
“This is about four times the size of our old branch,” she said. “We have a huge meeting room that can fit about 100 people in there and we just had a program today, which was terrific. There was a great turnout.”
“Silly Joe,” a children’s entertainer, played guitar and read stories to about 50 children in the upstairs meeting space on Tuesday morning. Elena Urioste, a critically acclaimed violinist, was scheduled to perform Wednesday evening.
“It’s great to have more space to do programing and things like that, so it doesn’t feel as cramped,” Ranck said. “We also have more resources, especially for the teens and youth age groups.”
Ranck said there were “a lot of ‘oohs and aahs’” from the library staff the first time they walked in to see everything fully furnished. She said installing new furniture and moving books from the old location took about a week.
“We were very excited,” she said. “Of course, we walked through the building during this whole process. [Contractor] Whiting-Turner let us in wearing hardhats. But one of the most exciting things was coming in here without the hardhats on to kind of really feel like it’s ours.”
The several hundred visitors who walked in Tuesday morning had a similar reaction, Ranck said.
“They loved the new space. They love the light that’s in the building. They love the gallery space that’s upstairs and the teen area,” she said. “It’s been terrific.
“I think getting used to the building is going to take a couple weeks. We’re looking forward to our official ribbon cutting on Aug. 7. I think by then we’ll have all the kinks worked out,” Ranck added.
“We just want everyone to come in and enjoy the new space. I know they’ve been waiting for it a long time and we’ve been waiting for it a long time, so we just can’t wait to share it with them,” she said.
The library was largely paid for by money from the state and Worcester County, with the Town of Berlin also making a contribution and nonprofits such as the Mary Humpheys Foundation adding about $250,000 in matching grants. Private donations also helped add several hundred thousand for new books, computers, and furnishings.
“I would just like to congratulate the county commissioners for their foresight and their support of this building,” Nancy Howard, library board member, said. “They’ve added, really, another star in Worcester County.”
Berlin Mayor Gee Williams was out of town on the day of the soft opening, but said he was also thrilled.
“I’m very excited about it and particularly because in the past year we’ve had more people in town talking about it and participating in it than I ever would have thought possible, which is great,” he said. “To have a community excited about a new library and have that result be so special, it’s just perfect. It was well worth the wait.”
Visit the new Berlin library on 13 Harrison Avenue. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Wednesday, and 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Saturday.
For more information, visit www.worcesterlibrary.org.