MADISON — In a cozy southern corner of the new children’s room at the E.C. Scranton Memorial Library is “Morgan’s Nook,” dedicated to the memory of Morgan Beach, a young woman who loved books.
“They said that wherever they went, she always found the corner, with the comfy chair,” said Laura Downes, referring to conversation with Beach’s parents, part-time residents in town. The space is in honor of their daughter who died in 2019 at 28-years-old.
“Morgan’s Nook” is just one highlight of the newly renovated Scranton Library, which has doubled in size.
The staff has been working in the new library since early July, preparing for the day when they can welcome the public to the new and remodeled space. But there will be no grand opening per se, due to COVID.
“We’ll be reopening in phases,” said Library Director Sunnie Scarpa. The library is currently offering a “hold pick-up service”for loaning materials to the public.
It is, in part, the generosity of donors, like the Beach family, that have made the new $15 million Scranton Library a reality.
The town bonded $9 million and the library was responsible for raising $6 million. To date, state grants covered $2 million and the remainder will be covered by donations. They are currently about $200,000 short, according to Downes.
“The thing that makes a gift to the library particularly meaningful is that it is a gift back to the whole community, and it’s a legacy that you leave, and then it’s also accessible to anyone in the library,” said Scarpa.
In “Morgan’s Nook” the corner couch and soon-to-be installed painted mural will be an inviting spot to curl up and enjoy a good book.
Artists Hilary Griffin and Melissa Imossi of Madison and Linda Marino, Branford, have collaborated to create the 8-foot-high by 20-foot-long mural to hang above the couch.
“It’s the water, it’s Tuxis Island, it’s the beach,” Downes described the mural. “It has a young woman reading on some rocks and she’s got a hat on and it’s got seabirds and boats and, in the clouds, it has quotes from the books she loved.”
The artists worked with Morgan’s parents to create a meaningful piece of artwork.
“As a team, we collaborated to capture the spirit of this beautiful young woman, constantly working to reflect her passion for reading and literature, her love for her feline companion and her enthusiasm for sharing book recommendations with anyone, near and far,” said Griffin.
For Madison resident John Brady and his wife, Roberta Isleib, a donation to the library was something they connected with, personally. Brady was on the library board for 10 years, serving as president for eight of those years.
“She and I have always loved libraries since we were children,” said Brady. “We thought they were magical places. As kids you could go in and take anything out you wanted and it was such a sense of freedom and an unbelievable gift.”
The couple’s donation is earmarked for the local history room, facing east, toward the center of town, with Scranton family portraits gracing the walls, in the original portion of the building.
“We’ve always loved that room,” said Brady. “First of all, it’s a beautiful, classic room with high ceilings, great woodwork and plaster work and nice beautiful windows and a skylight,” he said.
“But I think mostly because it captures the charm of the Scranton family,” he added. “Here’s Mary Scranton who singlehandedly built that building (the first Scranton Library that opened in 1900) and chose what turns out to be one America’s most famous architects (Henry Bacon, who later designed the Lincoln Memorial) and named it after her father. It’s a classic family story and it just goes back to a great tradition.”
And, on Wednesday, July 8 the newest chapter for the venerable library began when the official email was opened containing the certificate of occupancy for the library.
“I am so thrilled,” said Downes, the project liaison person and a member of the building committee, followed by Scarpa’s exclamation, “Fantastic.”
“We passed the building inspections June 24, but today we received the official physical copy,” said Downes, sitting at a computer surrounded by paperwork and boxes.
Downes marveled at the fact that COVID-19 did not make a huge impact on the project’s progress.
“We didn’t run into too many supply chain issues, that’s happened more recently,” she said.
Both Scarpa and Downes agreed that the biggest surprise for visitors will be the sheer size of the new library.
Increasing almost two-fold, from 18,000-square-feet to 34,000-square-feet, the library offers meeting room space for non-profits, as well as businesses; study rooms, as well as study spaces scattered throughout the building; a “makers space” complete with a Cricut, a computer controlled cutting machine for crafting projects; self-checkout kiosks; public computers and a café area, where visitors can bring in food and socialize, read or relax at high top tables and chairs.
Even the perimeter outside the library is designed with the community in mind. Along the east side, along Wall Street, the public is invited to sit at benches and the tables designed for checker and chess matches. The whole area is WIFI enabled and available to the public at large.
In addition, there are some 40 parking spaces, accessible from Wall Street.
“The outdoor spaces were important, too,” said Downes.
Outdoor spaces are plentiful at the “campus,” which also includes two historic buildings, next to the parking lot, the Ichabod Scranton House and the Hunter House.
There will be a brick patio between the houses which can be used for programs, including concerts, read aloud programs, bubble parties for the youngest patrons and outdoor movie nights.
How these buildings will be used for library programs is still yet to be decided.
All the buildings, including the original 1900 library, are on the State Register of Historic Places.
Patrons can enter the main building from the rear parking lot or the front of the building, facing Route 1.
“This design really created this nice main street, where all the activity will happen, with our information desk and our checkout desk,” said Scarpa.
There are disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer stations throughout the library.
Other highlights in the new library include two community meeting rooms which are conveniently across the hall from one another.
Scarpa was excited to talk about how they complement each other and about the rooms’ special features.
“It has a drop-down screen with a built-in projector, so you can have great programs, meeting nights, slide shows,” she said, of the larger room. “We also have the ability to put all the tables and chairs away.
“The Madison Art Society is very excited about this space,” she added. “They’ll be having their art shows here and then, what’s nice, is that our second space is right here (pointing across the hallway), so you can have an art show using both rooms.”
The main library was closed for renovations in October 2018 and a temporary Durham Road location has served the public ever since. This location was closed on March 18 due to COVID-19.
Discussions about a new library started about 20 years ago. There have been hurdles along the way, including a 2008 referendum where the idea was shot down by more than 400 votes, before a scaled-down plan was approved in 2017.
“It was the early 2000s when the library board decided to buy up some of that adjacent properties, knowing that eventually they’d have to do an expansion,” said Downes.
Scarpa stressed that the new library will allow the staff to fulfill their mission, which includes access to information, fostering of lifelong learning and creating connections between community members.
“We have the capacity for everyone to have a space here,” she said.