SKOWHEGAN — Down a new staircase at the Skowhegan Free Public Library to a new basement finished with computers, a genealogy room, conference room and artwork on the walls, is a poem that winds all the way to the bottom.

It’s E.E. Cummings’ “In Just”: “… spring when the world is mud-luscious … when the world is puddle-wonderful,” the poem reads. Such was the view on a recent muddy day visit to the library, where $1.5 million in renovation over the past few years has brought the 1889 Queen Anne-style bibliotheca into the broadband era of high-speed Internet.

Library Director Dale Jandreau said more than $1.5 million has been raised and spent, top to bottom, from a new roof and repaired chimney to the finished basement, where the public can browse the Internet on six computers and research family history from Atlantic Canada, Maine and the rest of New England. There are also two new computers in the children’s library on the second floor.

“We have a staff person on each floor now” Jandreau said.

The “Maple and Mud” art show in the basement is part of what Jandreau hopes will be an ongoing display venue, in which the artists can show their work, and if they sell a piece, they will donate 15 percent to the library’s continuing fundraising efforts.

There also are six sculptures by Maine artist Bernard Langlais.

Jandreau said the renovation money has come from grants, fundraising and donations.

The library’s annual operating budget – this year it was about $97,000 – is part of the town budget. This year, Jandreau said, the library will request $104,000.

The basement has new floors and refurbished ornate brick alcoves, held up by a 6-foot-tall granite foundation. What the basement was before renovation was a dank, dark cellar with dirt floors, Jandreau said.

“They used this for storage years ago,” he said. “It was very bad down here. A lot of things had molded. There was rotting down here. It was an old basement where they just stored things for years.”

Computer search results and donations of books and other historic data are cataloged in sections – Maine towns, family names, vital statistics – births and deaths. There also is a section on Skowhegan Area High School yearbooks, personal journals, and cemetery records.

Renovation and restoration of the 1889 public library, which got underway in 2009, got a boost in 2014 with the receipt of a $255,000 grant from the Next Generation to be used toward installation of an elevator.

Jandreau said the elevator’s total cost is expected to be about $535,000, and the installation will have to go out for bids.

A new back door has been cut through the old brick and to the area where the elevator will be.

There is new wiring, a heating and cooling system, reglazed original windows, brick facade, sewer connections, two new furnaces and a sprinkler system.

 


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