PORTLAND – Minutes after the ribbon was cut and the doors swung open on Thursday, Nycholas Hansen found a desk and went to work on his laptop computer at the city’s renovated library.

Around him, hundreds of visitors flowed toward the different areas of the library, which had been closed for a year. A $7.3 million renovation has transformed the building into a state-of-the-art community gathering spot, designed with extensive use of glass and stone.

Massive windows give it the feel of a building that has been turned inside-out.

Hansen, a substitute teacher who moved to Portland just two months ago from Washington, D.C., was more than a little impressed.

“It looks great. The space and the light are amazing,” he said, looking out windows onto Elm Street.

Hansen compared the library to the ones he used regularly in Washington.

“This is easily the biggest and the nicest,” he said. “I’m a big supporter of libraries. They’re good places for people of all walks to get together and mingle.”

Jenn Grant, a social worker from Portland, has been a regular visitor to the city’s main library for about 10 years. She had kept an eye on the progress of the renovation, and was happy to finally take the tour.

“It’s much easier to find things now. I bring my nephew here a lot and the children’s room is ten times better,” said Grant, standing in the fiction section with a book by Jon Katz tucked under her right arm.

“I will want to spend more time here,” she said.

Her excitement about the new space was tempered somewhat by the ongoing debate over the future of Portland’s branch libraries. Due to budget constraints, library officials have decided to close three of the five branches: Reiche, Munjoy and Riverton. That would leave the popular branch libraries at the Deering Center neighborhood and on Peaks Island.

Some city councilors want to find a way to keep Reiche, Munjoy and Riverton open as community centers.

“It’s hugely disappointing,” Grant said of the planned closures. “I lived on the West End for several years and I often used the Reiche branch. Not everyone can easily get to the main library.”

Karen Kingsley, who lives in Hallowell and works in Portland, wishes all of the branch libraries could remain open, but she understands officials have to make tough decisions.

Kingsley hopes the renovated main library will compensate for the loss of some of the branches. She admired the general design and the abundant art on display, including historic photographs of Portland and the relocated Little Water Girl fountain. The fountain was moved from an outdoor courtyard. It was restored and placed in the new lobby.

“She looks magnificent there,” Kingsley said.

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

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